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    Pillage in the Village

    The Jean Cocteau Rep produces the classical anti-war comedy "Lysistrata" with a downtown street-urchin aesthetic and a cacophonous assault that often drowns out the play itself.


    The Athens of 410 B.C., about when Aristophanes' "Lysistrata" premiered, was a nervous city. Sparta had made devastating advances and after the total destruction of the Athenian navy, an emergency plan was put into place. A "Committee of Ten for the Safety of the State" (yikes!) was convened to override the democratic council. A special reserve that had been stored in one of the temples on the Acropolis twenty years prior funded the construction of a new navy- an accomplishment that helped perpetuate the Peloponnesian War for another seven bloody years.

    Company: Jean Cocteau Repertory.
    Written by: David Lee Jiranek.
    Directed by: David Fuller.
    Based on the play by: Lysistrata.
    Cast: Elise Stone, Eileen Glenn, Amanda Jones, Marlene May, Carolyn Ratteray, Jolie Garrett, Brian Lee Huynh, Allen Hale, Angus Hepburn, Michael Surabian, Harris Berlinsky, Abe Goldfarb.
    Music by: Guy Sherman/Aural Fixation.
    Sound design by: Guy Sherman/Aural Fixation.
    Set design by: James Wolk.
    Costumes by: Margaret McKowen.
    Production stage manager: Allison Smith.

    Related links: Official site
    Jean Cocteau Repertory
    330 Bowery at Bond St.
    Oct. 24, 2003 - Feb. 5, 2004

    Aristophanes wondered what would happen if the women- from all sides- banded together for peace by refusing their men entrance not only to the Acropolis, but to themselves.

    In the current production of the late David Lee Jiranek's adaptation by Jean Cocteau Repertory, this scenario is crampingly played among the frills and crippling constraints of a "concept" that distracts far more than it illuminates.

    Upon entering the theater, one is confronted with James Wolk's impressive set, which marries Greek ruin with seedy Old Bowery alley. In shadowy dreariness, the war-worn characters limp onto the stage and, despite their deliveries, reveal not the play's ingeniously satirical text, but rather the show's bizarre complexion, sporting a kind of goth-glam lingerie look, (costumes by Margaret McKowen) creating a sort of dismal nostalgia for those wacky '80s East Village vampire rockers who no doubt saw their heyday right across the street at CBGBs.

    As the performers' valiant efforts continue, most of their labor is overwhelmed amid the percussive racket of high heel stomps, tin fence rattling and grid-shaking pratfall booms that make an audience member long for subtitles. About a half-hour in, I started counting props. Forty eight, including the smoking missile launcher, the electric wheelchair, and the two plates of spaghetti.

    Guy Sherman's score adds to the confusion by shifting in tone from heavy moodiness to downright breezy camp, regardless of what sense Aristophanes — or the actor for that matter — may be trying to make.

    For a work famous for its progressive philosophies and shocking double entendres, the writing is sorely neglected here. Jiranek's anachronistic adaptation occasionally pokes through the tumult and lands amusingly on the ear. Moments like this encourage one to remember that a voice for peace like that of "Lysistrata," no matter how muffled, has lasted some 2,400 years and will, no doubt, outlive the current interference.

    DECEMBER 18, 2003

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