Updated: Feb 16
Leave it to LA’s Troubadour Theater Company—our own “Troubies”—to transform Aristophanes' politically comedic Greek play Lysistrata into Lizastrata for a modern Getty Villa audience. Punctuated by the songs of Liza Minelli—especially from the musical Cabaret, but also “New York, New York” and others— this clever, cheeky update is infused with ingenious writing, nonstop hysterics and a plethora of penises.
Yes, penises play a huge role, thanks to the artistry of Lily Bartenstein’s props and “additional phallus designer” Joe Seely, and include an inflating balloon penis and a hilariously single-minded penis puppet. True to the comedic and bawdy tone of Aristophanes’ original play, Lizastrata goes all the way and then some in portraying Greek women withholding sexual favors from their husbands and lovers until the men end the Peloponnesian War.
Though the play’s premise is risqué, in the Troubies’ playful hands, its feeling is frisky and fun rather than pornographic.
We are initiated into this world by adaptor/writer and director Matt Walker, dressed as the Emcee in Cabaret in the first of many Liza-inspired songs that dot the production (“cuz life is a Troubie show, old chum, just head down the PCH…”).
Instigated by a richly voiced, strong yet sensual Cloie Wyatt Taylor as Lizastrata, the women— including a Karen from Orange County (Amanda Pajer), Deb from the Valley (Jess Coffman) and Ojai Amy (Suzanne Jolie)—can barely commit to celibacy but do so in the name of peace.
They are also supported by the goddess Athena, played by an amazingly versatile Beth Kennedy. She also plays an extremely soft-spoken librarian and excellent husband, swaggering around with washboard abs and operating both the balloon and puppet penises at different points.
Genderbending in general is part of the pleasure of this production. The male cast portray the saggy-breasted old women of Athens who overtake the city treasury in the Acropolis while the women play the shuffling old men who try to stop them.
L.T. Martinez as Lizastrata’s right-hand woman Calonice makes a perfect tough broad, hitting the right notes in crying for some romance before sex when his character gives in to her husband’s (Kennedy) demand to copulate right where they are. But first she wants a mat to lie on, then a blanket, then some dancing, and then… oh shoot, it’s too late.
Staging this play at the Getty Villa outdoor amphitheater with artifacts from Aristophanes’ time within its walls—“evidence,” as one of the players says, of the sex in the play—grounds the play in Greek antiquity while staying very much of the here and now through pop and political references. The cast even make fun of having to be quiet so as not to disturb their Malibu neighbors.
Practically perfect comedic timing—accompanied by musical toots from the live band to underscore jokes—is part of the Troubies’ genius. Walker’s writing packs as much punch into each line as possible, however cheesy. You may groan occasionally but you will still be grinning from ear to ear. Case in point is Lizastrata’s surprise appearance husband at the end.
The point of this (fore)play is achieving unity and peace among those divided, not just between the sexes but among all people—as valid a message now with our political divisions as during Aristophanes’ time. If it takes sex jokes while singing and dancing in crazy costumes and prosthetics to achieve it, that’s certainly better than anything else working right now. And certainly way more fun.
Lizastrata continues at the Getty Villa’s outdoor theater, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, through Oct. 2. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets range from $40 to $48, or $36 for students and seniors. Visit Getty.edu for tickets and information.