Saturday, August 23, 2014
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KCACTF2 Review: Lysistrata

Bowie State University's Lysistrata, produced for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region 2, reviewed by Tiana Bias and Hannah Eyler for the Institute for Theater Journalism and Advocacy.

KCACTF2 Review: Lysistrata

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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.

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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