Lysistrata at Bard on the Beach

Move over Shakespeare, Aristophanes is in the house! The father of English drama is upstaged by the father of comedy in Bard on the Beach’s adaptation of the Greek play Lysistrata.

Although presented in its entirety, the play has been reworked by Lois Anderson and Jennifer Wise to unfold naturally within a play about female Bard actors mounting a protest.

While theatre-goers chatted amongst themselves, the cast could be seen fumbling onstage, appearing to finalize last-minute touches.

Artistic director Christopher Gaze draws a warm welcome as he makes his usual intro speech. He then informs the audience that, sadly, Vanier Park has received notice that it will be rezoned into a shipping terminal, reading an ominous memo that hints this might be the last year for the Bard tents.

Lysistrata at Bard on the Beach

Upset at this news, the actors, in the midst of opening Hamlet, decide to mount their own form of protest by staging Lysistrata instead, a libidinous comedy about the resourceful Lysistrata who organizes the first-ever female strike in an effort to end the long drawn out Peloponnesian War and unite Greece.

The fighting has wreaked a terrible toll on lives, families and Mother Earth. Lysistrata reveals that women have the power to bring peace by using the very thing irresistible to all men – their feminine wiles.

She instructs her female co-conspirators – housewives from Sparta and Athens – to withhold sex from their husbands when they next march home. This political Greek play, replete with wit and innuendo is already a raunchy, side-splitting battle of the sexes.

Concocting the idea that the Bard troupe is staging an impromptu rendition introduces additional layers of playfulness, hilarity and complexity.

Quelemia Sparrow, Luisa Jojic
[Quelemia Sparrow, Luisa Jojic]

The intentional haphazardness begins as soon as Luisa Jojic enters the “makeshift” stage as an uncertain Lysistrata, looks around nervously and hollers, “Line?!”

Colleen Wheeler who is still fixated on performing Hamlet, pops in and out, much to the delight of the crowd. An impulsive Adele Noronha dashes in to reveal her acts of vandalism while pursued by two VPD officers (Sebastien Archibald, Joel D.Montgrand). 

A fretful Ming Hudson wails, “I’ll never work at Bard again!” for her part in the conspiracy. Sharon Crandall and Michelle Fisk are the most adorable sour cronies and Quelemia Sparrow seems to hear the whisperings of her Indigenous land.

The site of Vanier Park used to be called Snauq, the last Squamish village in the city. She asks whether we will let the desecration of the land continue.

The figure of Mother Earth was represented by a resplendent Jennifer Lines, who sings a cautionary ballad.

Marci T. House dazzles in her multitude of roles, from lusty Lampito, to huffy magistrate or feisty old man. With savvy dexterity and restraint, the company played characters and, in a much harder feat, characterized themselves onstage.

The exception are the male actors who, ironically, are not themselves! As authoritative VPD officers, Archibald is a priceless “prick” to watch while Montgrand conveys so much in an eyeball roll.

Quelemia Sparrow, Ming Hudson, Jennifer Lines
[Quelemia Sparrow, Ming Hudson, Jennifer Lines]

Drew Facey’s spur-of-the-moment set is both deliberate and simplistic, allowing the actors to “finish” the props themselves. As the play opens, the audience can hear the sound of a staple gun frantically attempting to complete the scenery.

Barbara Clayden’s ingenious medley of found and recycled items as ad-hoc costumes is utterly glorious. Toilet paper tubes and empty plastic bottles morph into bombastic hats, spoons become protective armour and a set of curtains is revamped into a sweeping cape. My favourite is the Starbucks cup chalice.

Stage elements are unified with John Webber’s life-giving lighting and a multifarious musical contribution by Mishelle Cuttler.

Colleen Wheeler Adele Noronha
[L to R: Colleen Wheeler, Adele Noronha]

Anderson calls this production a “collective creation” which could not have been brought to fruition without the unsung heroes of the backstage crew: the stage management team (Joanne P.B. Smith, Jennifer Stewart, Zoe Bellis), voice/text coach (Alison Matthews), choreographer (Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg), fight director (Josh Reynolds) and up-and-coming apprentices (Joel Wirkkunen, Hannah Case).

Aristophanes’ citizens-action piece would not have been taken seriously in ancient Greece but he should be applauded for his foray into gender bias. Anderson and Wise’s adaptation is more than a feminine mad-cap comedy. It delivers universal messages that are timely for the “Me Too” movement and our neoteric ideas of war.

For the first time in 2018, women are finally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia; war means destruction in many forms, including the pillaging of earth’s resources. Through fits of har-de-har, these clever ladies impart sobering themes to an enraptured audience.

This creative, interactive and immersive rendition has too many funny moments to cite. There are history lesson bits, reality TV action, activism, spiritualism and musical comedy. Although all the Bard offerings are gems, this is the one to see if you are seeking an inventive lark.

Bard on the Beach’s Lysistrata continues on the Howard Family Stage in the Douglas Campbell Theatre at Snauq until September 13

Photos by Tim Matheson.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

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