Pantsuits, Pussyhats, and Penises Abound in Lysistrata at Classical Theatre

Patricia Duran as Lysistrata in Classical Theatre Company's production of Lysistrata.
Patricia Duran as Lysistrata in Classical Theatre Company's production of Lysistrata. Photo by Pin Lim
Women’s historic – and to a large degree paradigmatic – obligation of citizenship during wartime is to support the war effort through the resolute and patriotic surrendering of their family members to military service.

That’s the smarter, more sophisticated way of saying that for a long time, women had to sacrifice their men – fathers, husbands, brothers, sons – during war. For the good of the state, that is. So, what happens when that’s just not a sacrifice women are willing to make anymore? Aristophanes’s had quite an interesting idea about how that might go in Lysistrata, now playing at Classical Theatre Company.

In Aristophanes’s comedy, which premiered back in 411 BCE, the women of Greece, sick of war with no end in sight, are inspired by one, Lysistrata, to solemnly swear that they will withhold sex until the men make peace. Simple and ingenious, right?

Classical Theatre’s production of Lysistrata tells you exactly what it is as soon as the lights go up on the cast. With faces hidden behind masks, a nod to Greek tradition, the cast stands in formation. An excerpt from Cecile Richard’s speech during the Women’s March plays and leads into the Missy Elliot classic “Get Ur Freak On,” and the cast starts to groove. From here, everything from pantsuits to tiki torches make an appearance, as well as a “smoke her out” chant that rings as familiar as a protest sign that says “love not hate makes Greece great.”

John Johnston, Classical Theatre Company’s executive artistic director, adapted Aristophanes’s play and if somehow it’s not clear, he’s incorporated a lot of recognizable imagery and references to our current political scene (as well as some great not-so-current references, too). This Lysistrata is as irreverent as all get out (and still full of innuendo and plenty of dick jokes), but also packed full of meaning through Johnston’s choices. It may sometimes feel like watching someone shoot fish in a barrel, or someone preaching to the choir, but in the hands of Johnston and director Julia Traber (whose assured direction really pays off), it’s moving so fast and you’ll be laughing so hard, it’s unlikely to bother you.

Though it’s always a treat to see so many talented people on stage, this cast serves as just one more reminder that it’s still really nice when so many of those talented people are women (and it still doesn’t happen nearly enough).

Patricia Duran stands at the center of this ensemble production, her Lysistrata an instigator with a commanding presence. She’s imposing and idealistic, strong in character, and not above putting on a breathy, sexy voice to further the cause (as she does quite humorously). As Calonice, Skyler Sinclair is playfully wicked, with a contagious smile to match. Lindsay Ehrhardt’s attitudinal Myrrhine is often seen staring at her phone or filming the goings-on, but it’s in the second act that she really gets to show off when her husband appears at the Acropolis to beg for his wife.

Lyndsay Sweeney is the Leader of Women, whose black sleeveless cape, though called a “tunic,” bears a more than passing resemblance to a judge’s robe, and a certain judge in general. Sweeney is a formidable foe as the Leader of Women, loud and abrasive in the best ways. Denise Marin’s Lampito gets the spotlight for a couple of too-brief monologues, while Hayley Dugan, Brittney Jones and Jeana Magallan (the Female Chorus) provide great support in every scene they are in. Magallan gets a special acknowledgement for a surprisingly great gag with a helmet.

click to enlarge
Leo Rojas as Chorus and Wesley Whitson as the Leader of Men in Classical Theatre Company's production of Lysistrata.
Photo by Pin Lim
There are, of course, men in this play, and Wesley Whitson plays the Leader of Men. He’s an old Southern geezer of a character, who Whitson plays with guffaw-inducing skill. Rodrick Randall plays a loquacious member of the men’s crew, and also the Magistrate, a useless government official with a red tie and tiny hands. Gabriel Regojo plays Cinesias, Myrrhine’s husband, with such red-faced desperation and panic that the audience may well have laughed every second of their exchange.

Rounding out the cast of men are Leandro Rojas and Antwan Smith, who are the Male Chorus. Rojas gets a chance to twerk and his bad aim with a baby doll led to a legitimately funny moment, while Smith gets a good turn as a scaredy cat police officer.

At first sight, Afsaneh Aayani’s single set design only evoked one response, but once the little voice in my head finished saying Beetlejuice three times, I could better appreciate the monochromatic color scheme. With black and marble-white bands running vertically and horizontally, and an Ionic column leaning on one side, the set proved to be the perfect Greek-inspired playground for the cast, as much “area outside the gates to the Acropolis” as it is boxing ring and dance floor. Properties Designer Tina Montgomery contributes greatly to Aayani’s set, supplying the tiki torches and Duraflame logs, as well as a shopping cart and glittery pink helmet, for different scenes. And of course, there’s Aayani’s bold-red balance to all the show’s phallic imagery front and center on an aptly chosen gate.

The color red also ties into Lysistrata’s costume, as designer Rachel Clinkscales has chosen an all-white pantsuit (with a pop of red in the form of the shirt underneath) for Duran. The other women of Greece wear solid-colored jumpsuits, gold belts, and flat strappy sandals until they’re mobilized, at which point they don gray leggings, camo hoodies, and pussyhats. The men appear in suits and ties, and recognizable but text-less red baseball caps before stripping down to their undershirts and boxers.

Andrew Vance’s lighting designs are as irreverent as the play we’re watching, and nowhere is that irreverence more obvious than the sound design by Jon Harvey. Music plays such an important role in this production – with so many musical interludes that include songs from the aforementioned Missy Elliot, Jay-Z, M.I.A., and even Richard Cheese’s cover of “Rock You Like a Hurricane” – which means that Harvey plays an important role in this production. And he plays it well, might I add.

If you're in the mood for a stale, hundreds-years-old comedy about a culture quite distant and far removed, then you're out of luck. This production of Lysistrata is fresh, clever, and above all else, funny as heck.

Performances continue at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, October 23 and 28; and 2:30 p.m. Sundays at DeLuxe Theater, 3303 Lyons. Through November 3. For more information, call 713-963-9665 or visit $10 to $25.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.