Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata” transported to a contempo college setting, with boys called Cinesius and Xander and a cheerleader named Lysistrata Jones? Sounds academic, precious, or both. But librettist Douglas Carter Beane takes pinpoint aim, the jokes ricocheting across the commandeered basketball court at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square. “Lysistrata Jones” is a slyly contrived “High School Musical” for adults, lubricated with gallons of Grecian formula. New site-specific offering from the Transport Company, skedded for only two more weeks, has the potential to make it to the big leagues. Can the climactic hoops scene be reconfigured for Broadway’s Circle in the Square?
Adaptation is simple, and simplistic. (Opening lyric: “Some play by Aristophanes, he’s dead so we do what we please, something that’s old and so arcane, so sue us it’s public domain.”) The Spartans of Athens U. haven’t won a game in 30 years; Ms. Jones, hook-up of the center, searches for some way to get the boys to try harder, and finds it in the SparkNotes for “Lysistrata.”
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For Beane (“The Little Dog Laughed”), this is a plot that launches a thousand laffs, old and new. Scribe actually has jokes about Amelia Earhart and Kitty Dukakis in the same exchange — both of which land — and crams in gibes about Theodore Dreiser plus a wicked, up-to-the-minute lunge at “the head of IMF ordering maid service.” Wise, and decidedly not collegiate.
Story is primed with a dozen songs by Lewis Flinn. These are humorous and mostly functional, though weakening as the evening goes on; furthermore, the basketball court acoustics make some of it sound more loud than musical. Songs mostly score, though, such as the one featuring the girls’ manifesto, “No more giving it up, ’til you give up giving it up!”
Dan Knechtges, choreographer of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and Beane’s “Xanadu,” here comes into his own; his work, as director-choreographer, is deft, canny and clever. He also manages to makes sense of the unusual playing area, giving us both pagan rites and basketball games. Allen Moyer handily transforms the gymnasium into the several necessary settings, and costume designers David Woolard and Thomas Charles LeGalley provide their own share of jokes.
Little-known cast of 12 is filled with personable funsters. Patti Murin makes a frisky, blonde Lysistrata; it’s no wonder that she conquers the kids at Athens U., and the audience. Liz Mikel serves as narrator, courtesan and rafter-shaking Earth Mother; she plays for broad comedy and wins.
Josh Segarra is sweetly likable as conflicted basketball star Mick, quoting Whitman and Dickinson in private. Shining among the rest are two exceedingly droll campus nerds. Lindsay Nicole Chambers gives poetry slams that are hysterically awful, while Jason Tam — the impressive Paul in the recent revival of “A Chorus Line” — provokes roars as he demonstrates dance steps from his iPhone. Tam and Murin ultimately make a lovely couple, too.