December 19, 2014
This past week I spent four days in Ottawa, two of which were spent with a cast of eight actors who, with limited time, did a wonderful job animating their characters and my story of Lysistrata. On the Tuesday afternoon, there was a reading for a small invited audience and everyone laughed in the right places. On Thursday, two of the actors returned and rehearsed three scenes with masks to see if my dialogue suited this type of performance. The producer and dramaturge where delighted with the progress the play had made from the first draft. The work with the masks was very encouraging and helpful and so my residency at the Odyssey Theatre ended on a high note.
One interesting thing I noticed was that the response from the women, in the cast and the audience, was unanimously positive whereas the response from the men was unanimously subdued. I had never thought of the play as attacking men as a gender. I was ridiculing as aspect / archetype that is generally associated with men i.e. the ability to focus narrowly, to compete, to struggle bravely, in short, to fight for a noble cause. These assets, it seems to me, are not as valuable today as they once were. A narrow focus on growth, without factoring in the cost of that growth to the health of the planet, may be dangerous bordering on deadly.
It is interesting to see Barack Obama trying to create a foreign policy for the United States that is more nuanced than warrior. He has been roundly criticized, even by his supporters, of being naïve and out of touch with realities. His recent decision around Cuba is a case in point. Critics charged that he “didn’t get anything” from the Castro regime in exchange for his easing of trade restrictions but I see it as an act of supreme strength. He doesn’t need “to get” anything in return. The action, it seems to me, implies a certain humility that must be galling to many. It suggests that just maybe the United States should treat Cuba as everyone else does and leave the form of government in that country to the Cubans. Weird, eh?
In my version of Lysistrata, the women stage a sex strike and win. That’s one for the matriarchy. The women are trying to defend ‘Mother Earth’ and the men aren’t. It is a generalization to divide men and women in this way but is it unfair? Men, still, most people would agree, hold the reins of power. It is a generalization that is truthful if not entirely true just as the ancient Greeks appreciated Aristophanes’ s satire on the Peloponnesian War. Not all women in Athens would have opposed that conflict but it was made to seem that they did and it is a dramatic notion that has survived 2,500 years. I am proud to be part of that long story.
It is hard for a playwright (or at least this playwright) to hear his play read with vigour, as it was last Tuesday, as if it was a finished piece when it isn’t. The strengths (many) and the weaknesses (still being assessed) are all delightfully and painfully clear. But that is its purpose and its great value.
My thanks to the eight fine actors, to my director Jan Irwin and to all those who attended.