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As the Bush administration prepared for war, the worldwide peace movement prepared a unique kind of protest on March 3.

Theatrical groups at home and abroad, including the Kings County Shakespeare Company at St. Francis College and groups of actors on the steps of Borough Hall and at the BAM Harvey Theater staged readings of that quintessential antiwar play, "Lysistrata," by Aristophanes.

Quite coincidentally, German director Gabrielle Forster had made plans to stage the same play at the Impact Theatre in Prospect Heights, opening Feb. 27, just days before the theatrical event for peace.

Forster was delighted at the coincidence. Her audiences will be delighted with the production.

"Lysistrata" takes place during the 21st year of the Peloponnesian War, which started in 431 B.C., when the Theban allies of Sparta attacked Athens. Since then, Athens and its allies, and Sparta and its allies have been battling. During that time, Pericles, the leader of Athens, died, the Athenian navy was sunk off the coast of Syracuse, and the once proud cradle of democracy was overtaken by corrupt politicians. It was in 415 B.C., while the war was at its height, that Aristophanes wrote his caustic comedy.

"Lysistrata" (Anna Studebaker) is a young woman of Athens who is so tired of the endless battle that robs women of their husbands and sons that she persuades the Athenian women to storm the Acropolis, take over the treasury and refuse to have sex with their husbands until they make peace. The protest spreads until both Spartan and Athenian women are united in common cause and their husbands are eventually united in common desire.

But the women of Athens are not easily persuaded to abandon their men. Apparently, even in those pre-liberated days women were every bit as lusty as their partners. In the play, women are constantly trying to run away, give up or well, you know.

The play is filled with bawdy humor, descriptive language and provocative gestures. There are numerous references to the male organ in its various states. The men are loud and vociferous in their suffering, the women seductive and merciless in their abstention. One can only imagine what it must have been like more than 2,000 years ago when the play was performed for a raucous and reveling Athenian crowd.

Forster has happily chosen a new, updated translation by Nicholas Rudall.

There are delicious lines like, "It’s no treat for them if it’s no fun for you. It’s not copulation without cooperation," and more serious ones like, "We pay taxes in body bags."

Forster has complemented this fine-tuned script with a sparse set and modern clothing. Athens is suggested rather than re-created - with a pedestal, a statue, a bench and two contemporary road signs.

Forster has also commissioned an old friend, Brian Williams, to compose an engaging score that makes one think Broadway has come to Athens.

"Lysistrata" is an ensemble piece performed by 14 actors who also sing, and occasionally dance. Studebaker’s is the only starring role, and she acquits herself admirably as the audacious and determined Lysistrata. But the other men and women are excellent in their supporting roles - giving these Greek men and women real personalities of their own.

Two thousand years after Aristophanes wrote "Lysistrata" it’s amazing how little men and women have changed. The Athenian women complain about how their men take younger women when they’ve grown old. The men are pretty much helpless when it comes to caring for their children when their wives are away.

But most of all, Aristophanes was right on when he observed how it is the silent consent of women that allows their men to go to war. That’s what made "Lysistrata" such a subversive play in 415 B.C., and what makes it such a subversive play in A.D. 2003.

"Lysistrata" plays March 6-8 at 8 pm, and March 9 at 3 pm. Tickets are $15 at the Impact Theatre, 190 Underhill Ave. between Sterling and St. John’s Place in Prospect Heights. For reservations, call (718) 390-7163.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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