Lysistrata / by Michael Theodorou
A New Version of the original play by Aristophanes
PROPYLLEA - the stripper
FATIMA - the belly dancer
CHORUS OF WOMEN
LEADER OF THE MEN
CINESIAS - husband to Myrrhine
NICHARCHUS - husband to Calonice
LAMARCHUS - husband to Lampito
MANES - slave to Cinesias
CHORUS OF MEN
2 SPARTAN MEN - non-speaking
All characters also become members of their respective - according to gender - Choruses when not required in a scene. Thus, the play could be done by as few as 23 - or as many as you like!
Sample Pages from the script
The scene is an open space outside the Athenian Acropolis. To the left, a couple of pillars indicate the entrance to the shrine. To the back, a parapet overlooking sea and sky. Down right a stone seat Early morning. A cock crows. The stage is empty. Then Lysistrata enters from the right.
I'm fed up with those women! Be here at the crack of dawn, I said. And where are they? Still in bed, I warrant you. Snuggling up to their husbands, celebrating the rites of Aphrodite with soft fondling caresses and erotic kisses guaranteed to inflame their husbands' ardour. It's disgusting, that's what it is. And here am I - cold, miserable - shamelessly kept waiting.
[Looking off right.] Ah, here comes one of them at last. It's that young neighbour of mine, Calonice, the one who's just got married. Look at the way she's walking up that slope. You can see she's had a rough night.
Enter Calonice, puffed and out of breath, holding her back.
Good morning, Calonice. Have you had a good night, dear?
My God, Lysistrata, you do choose your times and places. I'm absolutely shagged.
I bet you are!
I must sit down, my dear. My back's killing me. [She sits on DR seat]
I bet it is!
CALONICE What's the matter, my dear? Why are you frowning and looking as stern as the great god Zeus himself?
I'm disappointed in you, Calonice.
Disappointed, dear? Why?
In fact, I'm disappointed in all womankind. Here am l, waiting to discuss a matter of the most vital importance to all the female sex - and half of them are still asleep!
Well, of course they have got babies and husbands to feed, servants to give orders to ...
Stuff husbands and babies and servants!
Well, we do our best, dear.
There are more important matters than that!
Are there? [Lysistrata glares.] Oh, yes, of course there are, Lysistrata dear. I was being stupid. Anyway, what's this meeting all about, that you've summoned all the women to?
It's about something very big.
LYSISTRATA Something of enormous proportions.
LYSISTRATA No, not that sort of thing, you one-track slut.
I'll send a messenger back to Sparta immediately, to get our women over.
Forward to battle, girls. I can hear the men coming. Quickly, get inside.
They all go off left, into the Acropolis. The men's Chorus enters, armed with bundles of sticks and torches, to smoke the women out. They make threatening noises and shouts towards the Acropolis, interrupted by the entrance of Stratyllis.
What do you think you're up to, shrimp?
LEADER OF THE MEN'S CHORUS
How dare you! Me, a shrimp! You ... you ... woman, you!
If you had any reverence for the gods, you wouldn't be doing what you're doing so near to the sacred temple of Apollo. It offends the nostrils of the gods.
Yes, be quiet!
What are you frightened of? We're only women after all!
Frightened? Who says we're frightened? You blackhead!
Frightened, I say, of a few women who are prepared to take a stand against the insanity that you men have made with your eternal wars.
I think it is time you were taught a lesson, you po-faced hag!
Po- faced hag!
STRATYLLIS Oh, you're so brave, aren't you? Safety in numbers, eh?
You miserable old crone. I'm going to knock your block off!
He takes a step towards her. Immediately, the women's Chorus comes on, all taking up warlike stances around Stratyllis.
So ... Reinforcements, eh? MEN'S CHORUS Reinforcements, eh?
Yes, reinforcements ... eh!
Go on... hit me, then.
I'd never dream of striking a woman. It's cowardly.
STRATYLLIS You bloated little toad.
Bloated little toad.
Did you hear that, men? Did you hear what she called me?
Yes. A bloated little toad.
Can I plead my defence?
For what cause?
To go back.
For how long?
I don't know. What's the form?
What you got? [Death sits on the chair.] I'm the man on the bench.
I was never a liar. I gave each man his due.
Not enough. Not worth more than a day.
I worked hard and 1 gave to the poor.
That's not much ... Seven days at most. You'll be back in a jiff.
I helped people to learn self-respect.
You gave nothing at all. You helped send them to me.
I was just. I gave each man his due.
Half a day. Case dismissed. This really is not worth my time. [He stands.]
Something there must be I've done in my life to merit a little more time?
There could be. But you'll not agree.
Let me judge for myself.
See those women down there, the women you've always abused? You can go back again, for two years and a bit, if you promise to sign their decree.
But they're all for peace! Man's honour is surely in war!
I've had it with you! Do you want your two years and a bit?
If that's all there is, I'll have to agree.
DEATH producing a piece of paper Just sign and I'll send you right back.
For two years?
For two years and a bit.
Give me the paper. I'll sign my name.
Death gives him the pen and paper.
On the line that says 'Sign.' Sign.
Lysistrata, won't you let me go home? I just want to do my husband's washing and then I swear I'll come straight back.
No. He can do his own washing.
But he can't. He doesn't know how.
Well he'll have to learn, won't he?
But he'll smell.
LYSISTRATA Let him smell. Let them all stink to high heaven.
Lysistrata, please just let me nip back home for five minutes. I'm making my husband a tunic and I haven't got any more flax.
LYSISTRATA Let him go without.
But his other one is frayed.
Let him mend it himself.
But he can't. He doesn't know how.
Well, he'll have to learn, won't he?
He'll catch cold.
LYSISTRATA Well, let him shiver and sneeze until he learns that women have rights too.
Please ... only for five minutes.
Oh, yes, five minutes! You can do a lot of harm to our cause in five minutes.
I'll say! LYSISTRATA NO!!
3RD WOMAN screaming
Ah! Ah! Lysistrata, I'm in labour!
I'm in labour. I'm going to give birth to my baby.
But you weren't even pregnant yesterday.
It's come suddenly upon me, Lysistrata. Let me go home. The midwife's waiting for me. Lysistrata taps the woman's stomach and a rather hard hollow sound is heard.
Rather hard, isn't it?
Of course, Lysistrata. It's my baby. My boy.
A boy? A boy with a bronze head, is he? What's this? [She dives under the woman's dress and emerges with a piece of breastplate armour.] Ah! A breastplate! He's going to be a soldier, is he? What do you mean, pregnant? You're no more pregnant than I am.
Sample Pages from Production Notes
PRODUCTION NOTES + TECHNICAL CUES etc.
N.B. These notes are suggestions only. You may find them helpful to follow; or they may act as a springboard for your own ideas; or you can choose to ignore them entirely!
INTRODUCTION: THEMES, THE PLAY'S INTENTION.
Lysistrata is one of those plays which will always be topical, simply because, somewhere in the world wars exist which have a greater or lesser effect on us in the west. Its cry for peace, an end to fighting, is as relevant today as it was when originally written, at the time of the Athenian wars with Sparta. With the growing unrest between Europe, the United States and the Arab nations, or between Arab and Jew, what could be more topical?
The play has been used for many reasons in the recent past. Mainly it has been a vehicle for feminism, since it is the women in the play who sue for peace. Really, though, there is only one 'feminist' character - that of Lysistrata herself, who is on a level of sound common sense above both the men and the other women in the play. The other women in the play are exposed as having all the faults commonly levelled at womankind - vanity, gossip and moral 'silliness' being the main ones.
Sex is the main theme of the play - because it is sex that Lysistrata proposes to withhold from the men until they concede defeat and give up war. To make this possible she has appealed to the women of Athens and to those of the enemy state - Sparta. The Spartan women [ who were famed in their day for being as warlike as their men] are comic masterpieces - huge butch women with coarse manners and accents. This satire would have caused much merriment amongst the Athenian audiences for whom Aeschylus was writing but it is still funny today - and can be made funnier and more up-to-date by perhaps making these women bodybuilders, fitness fanatics, or similar. The point is that both women and men are as addicted to sex as each other. The women have to show superior strength of character in order to withstand temptation - driving the men wild with desire without giving in themselves. The comic possibilities are obvious - and timeless. And because the women often begin to weaken, Lysistrata's role is to 'glue their courage to the sticking-post.'
The women cover different `types' and classes - from the upper-crust Myrrhine with her household of slaves to organise, to the stripper Propyllea. Likewise, the men cover the classes from the Magistrate to the ordinary soldiers. All, though, have one thing in common - their enjoyment of sex. Only Lysistrata is above all that, being unlinked with any man and in some way classless too. She talks equally firmly to Myrrhine as to the Spartan Lampito; her message is to all classes and types and her impatience with the shortcomings of both men and women is extreme - and often a source of more humour.
This new rendering of the old classic is lively and funny, using modern language without fixing it to a particular period. It is larded from the outset with sexual references and innuendos, so is not for the faint-hearted or for the lower echelons of the school, perhaps. However, it is not offensive and only the most prickly of managements will object to it, I feel.
The play's accessibility is stressed by its modernisation. It is not fixed in the jargon of a particular culture. It would be simple to do this play in whatever context you desire - in a particular country or a particular period; the options are wide.
CHARACTERS - all of whom will be 18/19 years old
LYSISTRATA - A very strong character needing a good voice range. She is domineering, scornful of others and prepared to go to any lengths to gain peace. Care must be taken not to make her unlikeable. It helps that she has a weak moment of despair where we see her cast down and in tears. She seems to have no husband, though she has 'done all that' as she refers to a husband earlier on. Presumably he is dead - perhaps killed in this same war, which would give her a dear motivation. Perhaps she ought to be dressed at first in black, as a widow. The fact that she has shared the trials and desires of all women must be the source of her strength - she has risen above it all and readied a status which is almost 'godlike.' It is significant that no man 'fancies' her - she is 'above' the sexual needs of the others and from this elevated position her vision of peace is dear and the means to obtain it all too simple - if only they would all listen to her. Much of her anger stems from the frustration of the leader whose vision is not understood.
CALONICE - a young woman, just married to Nicharchus. She should be the embodiment of the state of young passionate love, unable to take her mind off her husband or off the newly found joys of sex. She is an upper-class character so speaks well. Perhaps she could be giggly and breathy - to emphasise her youth - with over-emphatic body language.
MYRRHINE - Older than Calonice, she should exude the worldliness of the experienced society woman. Drawling upper-class voice, emphasising long vowel-sounds and 'darling's. Affected mannerisms - air-kissing, little flutterings of the hands, and so on. In her scene with her husband in Act Two, we see a different side to her. Her anger at Cinesias' betrayal of her - which she reveals only at the end of the scene - in fact colours all her voice and actions in this scene. There should be a coldness and deliberation about her movements that is obvious to us and confusing to her husband.
LAMPITO - the talkative one of the Spartans, though still more ready with fists and feet than with words. Should be played by a large actress - all her movements should emphasise her butchness; she is the one who wears the trousers at home and has her husband cooking for her. Cocky combative stance, legs apart, strides rather than steps. Voice heavily accented.
ISMENIA - always around though rarely speaking, there is still a lot of room for comedy with her physical presence. She is exceedingly slow and as butch as Lampito. Perhaps her body is more slouched - gorilla-like - arms hanging. Mouth slack, often hanging open. Reactions to what is happening on stage always a couple of beats after everyone else. The rhythm of the character is a challenge, especially set against the pacey rhythm of the others. guaranteed she will cause laughter; the trick is to keep working the character so that she gains the laughs still as the play progresses. When she does speak it is painfully slow and, of course, with the same heavy accent as Lampito.
STRATYLLIS - Lysistrata's 'old friend' and most trusted confidante among the women. She is forthright and strong in her movements and her speech. Of an indeterminate class and social standing, she should be played in a no-nonsense practical way with perhaps a touch of a regional accent. She is older than Calonice and Myrrhine, but still attractive - as witness the Magistrate's lust for her. This sexuality puts her on a lower standing than Lysistrata herself, who otherwise she might resemble too much. Her lower standing is further emphasised by her blame of Lysistrata when their financial shenanigans are exposed by Cinesias. An initially strong character, who is gradually exposed for her weaknesses.
THE OTHER WOMEN - As with the men, these need to be differentiated so that they become individualised - from flirts and teases like Fatima and Propyllea to workers and ardent feminists - a wide range of types and of ages. Once again, they should have regional accents, different ways of walking and talking, standing and using head and eyes.
LEADER OF THE MEN - the leader is the only person with [almost] as much strength and determination as Lysistrata, but his stance is made ridiculous by the laughter that is often levelled at him and by his own pompous high-handedness. He is not as bright and as quick as Lysistrata; he is, in fact, rather stupid - falling back on traditional responses and refusing to see any other point of view. He is the type never to change his mind - which is why, it is only his unconsciousness at the end which saves the day for both sides. He should be played as a sergeant-major type - military in his bearing. Impatient, bad-tempered and increasingly maddened by the stalemate, he often speaks through gritted teeth and bodily tension, nervous pacing, etc. should be major characteristics.
MAGISTRATE - is the archetypal doddery old fool. He rambles into interminable boring stories, loses his grip regularly on what is going on whilst retaining a ridiculous and entirely inappropriate dribbling, lip-licking, ogling and leering sexuality. The highest character in social class, his voice could be that of the upper-class bore, but needs to add to it all the vagueness, stammering after words and other vocal tricks that can indicate age and senility. His mannerisms, too, need to be equally vague - contrasting with a sharpness and sparkle of tone and eye when confronted with, for instance a pretty woman or attractive idea. Herein lies his comedy - in these contrasts and in the clarity of the caricature. Everyone will recognise the type. After his death, he remains much the same, though less vague. The likeable side of his character is his unwillingness to give up on life as represented by sexual love.
DEATH - is played as a 'dude.' Language gives the due - he is super-cool, laden with streetwise mannerisms. He should walk to an inner rhythm, as if always listening to a rap-beat, head nodding, finger clicking. Could be played with an American accent - but then it needs to be that of ghetto New York - the Bronx, for example, or Harlem.
CINESIAS - insufferably full of himself, he likes to lord it over the lesser creatures he sees around him, such as Nicharchus. He is boastful and stuck-up. We do not like him and are delighted at the way Myrrhine puts him down and exposes him for what he is. He could strut around, chest thrust out, looking down his nose at others. His voice is upper-class.
NICHARCHUS - an upper-class twit. He needs to contrast with the older Cinesias, by being a little bit puppyish, enthusiastic. Perhaps he is a little clumsy and gangly. He could be played much like 'Hugo' in 'The Vicar of Dibley.'
LAMARCHUS - is Lampito's husband. It would be fun if he were half the size that she is, so that when they embrace at the end, she picks him up physically. His accent should be the same as theirs but he is even less able to speak 'Greek'. Thus he speaks in monosyllables and his face will reflect a 'Manuel' type eager misunderstanding of everything said. His walk and stance needs to be soldierly - he and his companions need to look more disciplined than the Greeks.
MANES - needs a shambling gait and delayed reactions to show his slow stupidity. He should look dull-eyed, head hanging and dogged, but painfully slow in carrying out orders. For instance, his crying like a baby needs to be so bad that it is comical - he lacks the imaination to have a due what Cinesias is up to. In fact, he doesn't even realise he is suppose to be imitating a baby, so the crying will be of the wrong sort. He will also look affronted and put-upon when his master reacts with impatience at him; his whole attitude is long-suffering and 'Why me?'-ish.
THE GUARDS AND OTHER MEN - try to make these look like individuals. They are of lower classes than the other characters, so need to have regional accents - which can cover a wide variety of regions perhaps. They need to be worked on as a group to suggest individuality - not just physical differences, but differences in reaction, understanding, ways of standing and so on.
Work should be done with both choruses to establish separate character identities. I don't mean by this, the kind of detailed inner work common to the Stanislavski System but rather the finding of comic types - different mannerisms, different ways of walking and standing - which can perhaps be best discovered by using different rhythms - somebody slow and a bit goofy contrasted with someone mercurial and fuelled by anger, for example.
The author gives us his own idea which would be easy enough to follow: The scene is an open space outside the Athenian Acropolis. To the left, a couple of pillars indicate the entrance to the shrine. To the back, a parapet overlooking sea and sky. Down right, a stone seat.'
The staging for the play is very straightforward, only one setting being needed throughout. The above idea can be used if set on a traditional stage. Alternatively, the play would work very well in the round or in the arena form - with the audience seated in a horseshoe shape around the playing area - which leaves the potential for some `scenery' - pillars or whatever - at the back. If you have the facilities, an outside performance - weather permitting - would be ideal - creating its own setting of the 'out-of-the-way place' the women grumble to Lysistrata about.
If I were doing a production of this, I would like to see a single raised area placed slightly out of the way for Death to observe from at times. If I were doing this in the round, I would set this area a little way into the audience along one of the entrance aisles - [a performance in the round will have a few aisles between blocks of audience seating, for a variety of entrances and exits.] If on a proscenium stage, I would set this raised area - not too high - perhaps in front of one of the proscenium pillars, i.e. tucked out of the way of the action, yet somewhere where Death can lake prominence when required and where he can lounge against the pillar in an appropriate manner for his characterisation. If this idea were used, he would need to come on very unobtrusively by stepping through the side of the front curtains straight onto his platform.
Also very straightforward, as the following cues show. This is why a daylight outside performance would work well. The only major changes of light occur when Death comes into the picture. Otherwise straightforward bright 'sunny' light is called for.
I am assuming, however, a separate small platform, as detailed
above, for Death. Thus, the areas to be lit are as follows:
1. The whole stage bright and sunny.
2. Reduced area of stage, red light - perhaps the central part, leaving outer limits of stage shadowy.
3. Death's platform will need a separate light with as little spill as possible, also red.
Opening of play. Dawn. cyclorama at back of stage used, would be nice to have a colour wash of dawn pinks and blues, otherwise lights slowly up to fairly dim.
Very slowly, over the next two pages, brighten the lights on Area 1 and fade out the dawn colours to create impression of sun rising to full bright if cyclorama used - patchy blue cloudy sky increasing to more intense blue.
Cue: Magistrate drinking Lampito's brew. Change to Area 2, red light focused on central area.
Cue: Death snapping his fingers at top of page. Lights instantly back to Area 1, normal bright. If platform idea for Death is used, red light should be focused on him there, Area 3, as he moves to his platform at this point.
Bottom of page. Cue: the clapping and cheering of the women. Out Area 1 lights and change back to red lights Area 2. Retain Area 3, Death's spot.