Balloons are tossed out into the audience at the end of this musical version of Aristophanes’ antiwar comedy “Lysistrata,” heightening the impression that we’ve been attending an overlong children’s party — as onlookers rather than participants — and are finally being sent home. Fortunately, when this farewell production from American Repertory Theater artistic director Robert Brustein is forgotten, there will remain two living memorials to his lifelong dedication to theater: the company itself and Brustein’s previous creation, Yale Repertory Theater.
In the end, the imbroglio that embroiled this production has ended in a whimper — this new “Lysistrata” feels distinctly unnecessary. (Original adapter Larry Gelbart, composer Alan Menken and lyricist David Zippel were ditched and replaced at a late date by Brustein as adapter, composer Galt MacDermot and lyricist Matty Selman.)
The production was conceived as a vehicle for longtime ART company members, and so the slangy, contemporary script showcases individual actors rather than saying anything of note about the play.
Where most of the women are concerned, this has resulted in broad caricatures — Lampito (Stephanie Roth-Haberle) as a muscular amazon, Penelope (Hannah Bos) as a brainless knitter, Dipsas (Amber Allison) as a buxom hayseed, and so forth.
Curiously, Lysistrata herself is played straight and rather flat by Cherry Jones, who seems miscast in this burlesque/cabaret adaptation (paging Carol Burnett).
The men are also spoofed, complete with a chorus of four old men who are indeed “geriatric pissers.” The cast works hard, but the odds are against them.
Dialogue and lyrics merge more-or-less seamlessly, and much of the singing is of the talk-sung variety. Selman’s lyrics are as steeped in the vernacular as the dialogue (which includes the un-Aristophanic advice that cucumber slices are good for puffy eyes). Double entendres abound, including plays on the words “come” and “fallacy.”
MacDermot’s score is familiar and, but for some references to other composers from Satie to Gershwin, unsurprising. Much of it is redolent of burlesque, with march and strip tempos and suggestions of blues, torch songs and ballads. Among the titles: “Social Relations with the Enemy,” “If We Don’t Sleep With Our Men, Who Will?,” “Go Down, Persephone” and “Deus Ex, Deus Sex.” The music is played by a quartet of keyboards, guitars and drums at one side of the stage.
As Lysistrata and her cohorts go about their Women Against Copulation business in order to end the 21-year-old civil war in Greece, there’s a lot of built-in sexy business, from bumps and grinds to those clearly evident unassuaged private parts.
Yet both the play’s antiwar aspects and its bold sexuality have been emasculated by ART and director Andrei Serban’s try-anything staging. It’s merely broad and obvious.
Michael Yeargan’s set is a big box-like edifice suggestive of ancient Greek frescoes. Towards the close it refers to the Picasso illustrations from the 1934 edition of the Gilbert Seldes version of the play. A small raised platform at center stage adds to the production’s cabaret aura.
Marina Draghici’s costumes range from classical Greek drapery for Lysistrata to comparatively contemporary party dresses for most of the other women and comic warriors’ gear for most of the men.
The final result of a great deal of effort is a production of little of value that will mean even less to audiences in Philadelphia than it does to ART regulars.