2,500 Years in the Making, Lysistrata Jones Courts Broadway

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12 Dec 2011

Lewis Flinn and Douglas Carter Beane
Lewis Flinn and Douglas Carter Beane
Photo by Monica Simoes

Western drama's first and most enduring sex comedy, Aristophanes' Lysistrata, circa 411 BC, struts her stuff in a new Broadway musical Lysistrata Jones. Don't know much about history? Playbill offers a lesson about the classic.


Last June, after the new musical Lysistrata Jones opened Off-Broadway to good reviews, the show's bookwriter, Douglas Carter Beane, got a call from director Jack O'Brien, who asked, "Did you just make a hit out of Lysistrata!?"

Beane laughed at the recollection. "I said to him, 'What?! Everyone does Lysistrata in college.' He said, 'No, everyone has been in a great production of Lysistrata, but no one has seen a great production of Lysistrata.'"

This winter, many people who aren't versed in the classics will became familiar with the 2,500-year-old pillar of Greek Drama — after a fashion. Beane and composer-lyricist Lewis Flinn's show does indeed take its inspiration directly from Aristophanes' ancient comedy, but Lysistrata Jones takes place at a college named Athens University in the present day. And, this time, the stakes are considerably lower. The women are withholding sex, just as in the Aristophanes. But their goal is not to get the men to stop making war, as in the Greek original. Led by the head cheerleader — the title character — they're keeping their legs crossed only until the school's losing basketball team wins a game.

The Transport Group production started in an actual gymnasium, at the Judson Memorial Church off Washington Square in Greenwich Village. Reviews were so positive that talk of a move to Broadway started almost immediately.

Flinn is not surprised that the plot of Lysistrata remains relevant two-and-a-half millennia after it was written. "The general human condition hasn't changed," he said. "It's universal. It all comes down to personal politics at the end of the day."

Still, not every comedy from the golden age of Greek drama has fared as well. "If the saying that comedy does not age well is true, then it is doubly true of ancient comedy," said Robert Davis, who teaches ancient Greek theatre in the drama department at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. "We have lost so many of the topical references and cultural milieu of these plays that they tend to fall flat. However, Lysistrata is the exception that proves the rule. We always have conflicts in our society between war, peace, sex and gender, and Aristophanes handles those themes masterfully across more than twenty-five centuries."


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