This time, our Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Institute for Journalism and Theatre Advocacy critics go head-to-head with final reviews that determine which student will make it to the Kennedy Center finals. Once there, a winner from one of the program's eight regions will be picked to attend the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Critics Insititute on a full scholarship.
In part one of our final reviews, two of our students review Bowie State University's Lysistrata.
Lysistrata Review #1
by Tiana Bias
Do you enjoy your classic Greek theatre with a dash of Beyoncé’? Maybe you’d prefer it with a sprinkle of saucy attitude from the Athenian Chorus? Or perhaps you’ll like it with the zest of the late sixties? If you answered yes to any of these questions then Bowie State’s production of the classic Greek comedy Lysistrata is your cup of tea.
Lysistrata tells the story of a woman who sets out to end the Peloponnesian War by using the wiles of women in an attempt to quell the murderous pattern of war plaguing their nation. Bowie State University presents a thrilling take on Aristophanes’s comedy by infusing it with saucy choral quips and audience interaction.
Under the direction of Bob Bartlett once you step into the theatre you are immersed in the colorful world of the 1960’s. “Make Love, Not War” is enthusiastically shouted out by the cast members in their 60’s garb as they enter the audience to get them to join in their booming chant. As things simmer down we are then greeted by Athenian Chorus Leaders one and two (Nana Kebe and Jesenia Edwards) who begin to set up this comedy that can only be described as groovy.
Tamyra Lewis portrays a very sassy and fearless Lysistrata. While wearing nothing but a worn army fatigue jacket, a black brassiere, and an orange ankle skirt, she talks circles around Magistrate (Devin Denzel Davidson) with a confidence associated with more seasoned performers. Davidson also gives a strong performance, clothed in a black and gold dashiki, his subtle character nuances and stage presence shine through.
Although there were strong performances they were greatly muddled, and at times unappreciated, when the chorus and women would rambunctiously chime it at any given moment. It was clear when the choral chit chat was scripted and when it was not. Such as when a loud “do it girl,” distracts Lewis from one of her monologues.
The simple set of two platforms and two pillars topped with balloons was functional but left much to be desired. There was a musician on stage for all of the performance (Sherman Moss Jr.) and the musical anecdotes he added to moments, the pink panther theme song while women tried to escape Lysistrata’s grip, were a definite bright spot.
Bowie State’s Lysistrata struck some very valuable chords and some invaluable. Overall it’s difficult to pick out the good from this performance that was a bit all over the place. Despite my feelings, I still can’t seem to get their enthusiastically chanted “Make Love, Not War” out of my head.
Lysistrata Review #2
By Hannah Eyler
Lysistrata is proof that penis jokes have always been funny. Aristophanes’ Ancient Greek comedy has remained a favorite amongst audiences and because of this, there have been hundreds of interesting reimaginings of Aristophanes’ classic. With a 1960s inspired setting and a mostly African-American cast, Bowie State University breathes new life into this 2000-year-old sex comedy.
The best part about the acting in this production was the enthusiasm. It was clear that every single cast member loved the show and was having fun. Preshow was filled with sing alongs of “Change Gonna Come” and chants of “Make Love Not War” that the audience was encouraged, if not demanded (Lysistrata walked over to me and told me to chant), to participate. Sprinkled throughout the dialogue of Ellen McLaughlin’s extremely modern adaptations were enthusiastic adlibs from the chorus. The strongest acting came from Tamyra Lewis (Lysistrata), whose portrayal of the classic heroine was both funny and convincing. Another standout performance came from Jenae Barber (Calonice) who was laugh out loud funny every time she appeared on stage.
Lysistrata, being a comedy, is filled with little details that create some of the funniest moments. There were many over the top moments in the show but one of the best gags was the dust coming off of the old men as they ran into each other. This and typical Lysistrata gags like balloon penises kept us laughing throughout the show. Another interesting moment came when the actors addressed that they were characters in a play, reasoning that they can’t have sex because the audience came for a “refined night at the theatre.”
The use of space also worked well for this production. Many times, characters walked through the house, even between rows of seats as the Fisherwoman (Torrance Hughes) did. Scenic designers John McAffee and Bob Bartlett created interesting levels for the actors to jump on and run across, making the action the appeared on stage all the more interesting.
From the music and dancing of the preshow to the BSU chants after adjudication, Bowie State University’s production of Lysistrata was outrageously and energetically entertaining. If you like dirty jokes, Greek comedy, or audience participation this is a show you need to see.