By Aristophanes. Adapted by Jennifer Wise and Lois Anderson. Directed by Lois Anderson. A Bard on the Beach production. At the Howard Family Stage on Friday, July 13. Continues until September 13
Pool-noodle dicks, toxic masculinity, and a powerful plea for decolonization—these are just some of the things going on in Bard on the Beach’s bold, brilliant, and joyfully bonkers production of Lysistrata.
Aristophanes’ 2,400-year-old classic is about Greek women banding together to stop an endless civil war by occupying the treasury and withholding sex from men until peace is established. Jennifer Wise and Lois Anderson’s adaptation is refreshingly contemporary and relevant. In their play, the cast is set to perform their popular all-female Hamlet until they discover that Vanier Park, or Snauq, its traditional name, will be rezoned for development.
As an act of protest, the women decide to stage Lysistrata instead—with no rehearsal and improvised costumes, props, and sets. The result is a show within a show that manages to cultivate that real spark of solidarity in collective protest, while also being hilariously over-the-top, thanks to almost nonstop sexual innuendo, bawdy prop comedy, and probably the dirtiest and funniest fight/dance scene in the history of Bard on the Beach.
The cast is exceptional, and their excitement about the material is palpable. Comedy is hard work, and this adaptation of Lysistrata zigzags at neck-snapping speeds. Ming Hudson is a welcome newcomer to the Bard stage, and Adele Noronha a relative newcomer—this is her fifth season at Bard—and both bring a nicely subversive edge to their various performances.
Quelemia Sparrow’s contribution is particularly generous: the Musqueam artist brought her lived experience to Wise and Anderson’s adaptation, and within the show she’s also often tasked with doing the labour of education, explanation, and persuasion for non-Indigenous people who need to be reminded, told, and educated about the effects of colonization. Sparrow is the one who has to ask tough, rhetorical questions about land rights and occupation, who’s sharing her traditional knowledge and stories with us, and then gets to slip into her mop wig and deliver a dick joke or two.
Credit also to Anderson’s direction for maintaining the frenetic, unhinged buzz of creative chaos and tension that defines Lysistrata from start to finish. It’s impossible to know what will happen next in this unique production, and it’s not just the shock and awe of raunch and risqué humour, or the wildly creative costumes that Barbara Clayden has assembled with obvious glee.
It’s the emotional terrain, too, the huge laughs and the crushing realization that Aristophanes was calling out colonialism and the patriarchy 2,400 years ago and we still have so much work to do.