Women to the rescue New Muses brings ‘Lysistrata’ to life

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Lysistrata (Cassie Jo Fastabend) stands towards the back as a group of Greek women vow an oath to “abstain from the male” as a way to end a wasteful war. The New Muses production of “Lysistrata” runs through July 15. Photo courtesy of New Muses Theatre Company

New Muses Theatre Company is back with a new offering: the 411 B.C. Greek comedy “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes. In the play, Lysistrata, an Athenian woman, enlists the women of the Greek states, which are at war with one another, to band together in a sexual strike in order to compel the men to make peace. 

The New Muses production — directed by Niclas Olson utilizing a translation of Aristophanes attributed to Oscar Wilde — is entertaining from the first gathering of the women to the final orgy. It is swift-running, colorful, surprising, sensual fun.

It takes a cast of brave actors to perform this raucous play in which much clothing is shed. The women are down to their underwear and the men are apt to spring a surprise as well. The cast is wonderful in their embrace of this exhibitionistic romp, which has some pertinent political points to make.

Cassie Jo Fastabend is fabulous as Lysistrata, the star of the show. She is in command of the language — clear in both her diction and in the emotional impact of her speech. When she speaks of the women’s right to determine war policy, Lysistrata is full of genuine, grief-stricken pathos when she makes the point that it is women who must sacrifice the lives of their sons to the reckless policies of the leaders of the state.

Angela Parisotto exudes vivacious amusement as Calonice, while Caitlin Waltzer — as Stratyllis — commands others with the help of a horse whip. LaNita Walters is debonair as Lampito, a woman of the Spartans.

In the story, the women are instructed to do all that they can to fire up the passions of their men, but then to deny the men sexual release. The female characters thus do all in their power to be sultry and alluring. Kaylie Hussey, Jasmine Herrington, Colleen Michelle and Amber Sayman all do their parts well in this regard.

Mason Quinn, as the chief spokesman of the male characters, is amusingly brought to heel by the ladies. Keith Ordonez, Alex Luque and Nathaniel Walker are all good sports in their portrayal of typical shlubs who take male superiority for granted.

Bethany Bevier’s costumes and sound design are fantastic.

The show features a surreal, slow-motion battle of the sexes as the men try to retake the Athenian Acropolis, which the women have occupied. The music between scenes is strategically chosen and consists of girl-power anthems like No Doubt’s “Just a Girl,” Four Non-Blondes’ “What’s Up” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.”

Aristophanes wrote the play and had it performed in Athens while the Peloponnesian war was on. It was a bold critique of the disastrous course taken by the military leadership of Athens. Yet, the play retains relevance right up to the present time. It seems especially apropos right now, in light of the women’s marches, the Me Too movement and now the prospect that the Supreme Court might soon take an extreme right turn and begin to roll back hard won social rights. Could it become illegal for women to exert control over their own bodies?

Women’s control of their power of reproduction is the main feature of “Lysistrata.” The women, by “sealing the gates” — both literally and figuratively — of the temple and the treasury, threaten to deny military leaders of a supply of men necessary for the carrying out of their ill-conceived schemes. For women, their contribution to the state and to the society is, first and foremost, that they are the ones that generate and bear the children that assure the future of the social order. The men who are sent to fight the state’s wars are their sons. The true treasure of a state is its people. Appalled that this precious thing is being squandered in a war of Greek against Greek, Lysistrata and her “sister women” simply refuse to cooperate in procreation as a way to ensure an end to a wasteful war. Women in control of their own bodies have tremendous power.

A few of the props in the play serve to draw the connection between the story and contemporary events. At one point, for example, one of the men is carrying a tiki torch like those used last summer in the “alt right” rally in Charlottesville. The magistrate in the story, the chief spokesman for the male perspective, wears a red neck tie, just like that worn by Donald Trump, a personage who has boasted of actions which are understood by many to be examples of sexual harassment.

For those not conversant with the ancient Greek comedy, the story is hard to follow at times. But this does not deter from its entertainment value and its effective illumination of salient political points. The performances by Fastabend, Michelle, Parisotto, Quinn and Waltzer are simply superb. This is an enjoyable, funny and multifaceted piece of ancient theater that still has the power to speak to us today.

“Lysistrata” runs through July 15 with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. All performances take place at Dukesbay Theater at 508 6th Ave., Tacoma.

New Muses also has a one-night only staged reading of Willian Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” scheduled for July 8, 7 p.m.

For more information and tickets, visit www.newmuses.com.

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