The production of “LYS”, a new play commissioned by the Western Michigan University Theatre, is playing on campus through Sunday, September 26, 2021. WMUK’s Gordon Bolar has this review.
I entered the new outdoor York Courtyard Theatre made eager by the promise of “LYS”, a re-envisioning of Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy “Lysistrata”. That’s the play in which women refuse sex with their men to end a war. As I took my seat, I was intrigued by the scaffolding and the Greek pillars that framed the entrance to a capitol building on a stage setting described by the program as an “autonomous zone in the year 2030.”
The edifice occupied by rebels evoked ancient Athens - and our U.S. Capitol recently under siege. It served as a metaphor for the societal reconstruction that playwright Sam Mueller offers in “LYS” and was symbolic of Mueller’s makeover of Aristophanes’ work.
Because I’ve enjoyed successful and funny productions of “Lysistrata” over the years, I had questioned why Aristophanes’ masterpiece needed “re-envisioning for contemporary audiences,” as the program puts it. However, early in the production, after the black t-shirted rebel leader Lys, played by Chloe Davis, gave the initial charge to her comrades, I realized that the proposed sex strike was to include all sex, including gay and lesbian sex. I was drawn in by the dramatic and comic possibilities of including all relationships in this sex ban by the rebel forces. Here again was real promise.
However, it was the purpose of the sex strike, not the participants, that generated confusion and might have caused a few audience members to shift nervously and later leave the theatre. As outlined by Lys, the rebels’ purpose has something to do with ending the corporate exploitation of the environment – and ending the commoditization of human relationships. It also had something to do with bringing intimacy to human acts of love and sex. And it had something to do with “taking back the power,” as evidenced in a chant by rebel protestors.
As I listened to the delineation of the rebels’ objectives, I thought of Aristophanes’ original play. The motivation for stopping the war in “Lysistrata” was easy for audiences to grasp. Male soldiers drop their weapons and then the women let them drop their pants. The unfocused laundry list of objectives for Lys and fellow rebels had something to do with just about everything. In my experience, plays about everything risk being about nothing at all.
The cause of Lys and her rebels was, in fact, difficult to follow for two reasons. First, some in the audience leaned forward to hear exchanges between performers onstage outdoors. This could have been due to opening night placement and operation of microphones, or the low volume of some performers during key scenes. I’ve been informed that sound improvements have been made for subsequent performances. Next, Mueller’s problematic plot, which involved the conversion of a shadowy corporate executive to the rebels’ cause, seems to dodge a key question: how will the proposed sex strike motivate change and create the rebels’ vision of a new society? Cause and effect seemed to be lacking here.
Despite the preachy and prescriptive nature of Mueller’s play, several interchanges among performers rendered characters that resonated and were believable. Luke Cloherty, as Cy, presented an appropriately uncomfortable suitor for Hal, a rebel played by Henry Lee, who generated one of the evening’s few hearty laughs with his single word reply to Cy’s proposition: “No!”.
Ana Isable Passero, as Myr, the bound hostage and kidnapped wife of the corporate executive, grabs our attention while portraying a woman falling out of love with her husband while experiencing an attraction for Kleo, her captor, played by True Chin-Parker.
Several members of the cast brought zest and street energy to the stage, like the actors who played a skateboarder and a campus jock. These performers generated welcome humor as they engaged in elaborate tribal bonding and greeting rituals.
One can only wish that the promise in playwright Mueller’s opening had been more clearly realized in the script performed by the capable student ensemble who helped develop “LYS” in rehearsals.