- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

Multiple voices spoke as one Monday night at more than a thousand venues around the world. The message was simple: Abstinence makes the hawk grow fonder. Of peace, that is. With the Lysistrata Project simultaneous readings of Aristophanes' classic anti-war comedy at theaters, bars and coffee shops across the globe the international left finally found a use for one of the dead white males of the Western literary canon. Local readings were staged at the Source Theatre, the Warehouse Theatre, Mimi's American Bistro and Vertigo Books. Nearby Baltimore, home of the Catonsville Nine and the late Philip Berrigan, easily topped that with 12 readings.
In "Lysistrata," Aristophanes' circa 400 B.C. satire, the women of Athens, fed up with having their men die in battle, decide that the Peloponnesian War has gone on long enough and drastic measures need to be taken no more sex until the men lay down their weapons. The Athenian and Spartan men at first react aggressively to the edict, but finally, desperate for the resumption of connubial bliss, they learn to just get along.
Conceived by two New York actresses, Kathryn Blume and Sharron Bower, the Lysistrata Project came about after Miss Blume's idea of organizing a single reading in New York snowballed. "Before I knew it, we were producing an international grass-roots peace movement by uniting the voices of the theater," Miss Blume says.
The Lysistrata Project had four major goals, according to its Web site: "to make the Bush Administration aware of the growing opposition to the war on Iraq; to provide events where citizens can unite to enjoy an evening of spirited, comedic theater while raising public awareness about the rising volume of war opposition; to provide a humorous entree into a healthy community dialogue about what can be done on a local level to stop 'diplomacy by violence'; and to raise money for organizations that work for peace and human rights."
That's a tall order for a little comedy that's been around for 2 millenniums and still hasn't ended "diplomacy by violence" although there may be married couples who wonder whether Aristophanes is to blame for the infrequency of connubial bliss.
Genevieve Compton, director of the Source's "Lysistrata," says getting involved with the project was a family affair. "My family has always been involved with the peace movement, and my father heard about the Lysistrata Project on NPR and told me about the Web site," she says. "I logged on and saw that this could be the great melding of my two passions theater and peace."
Miss Compton was bowled over by the project's momentum. "I am completely impressed by how many theaters signed up. In theater, it is not often you get an outlet for the political. It is really thrilling that the theater community is making a positive statement, not just Bush-bashing," she says.
She also notes that people who are not normally theater mavens were interested in "Lysistrata." Proof of this could be seen in the Source's mobbed lobby. The crowd lined up outside the venue on 14th Street. well before the 8 p.m. curtain. There were lines for reservations, for no-shows and for the bathroom as one patron observed, "Greek plays are really long."
The audience was a mixture of earnest, Birkenstock-wearing young'uns in vintage overcoats that had not had a good cleaning since Peter, Paul and Mary had a hammer; theater majors wearing the requisite all black and fanciful piercings; and grizzled veterans of the peace and civil rights movements who looked as though they had spent many an evening reading "The Wretched of the Earth" while listening to Alan Lomax recordings of field hollers.
For all the mellow, bring-back-the-'60s vibe, modernity reared its head. Cellular phones burbled merrily during the staged reading, and two guys engaged in animated conversation complete with windmilling arm gestures for the duration of the play, undeterred by the presence of the actors two feet in front of them.
For the most part, however, the crowd was attentive, howling at the numerous jokes about sex, macho posturing and penis size. Not that Aristophanes was a prude, far from it, but the Douglas Parker translation chosen by director Genevieve Compton does emphasize the phallic. The reading also went for the raucously familiar, with the Spartans portrayed as hillbilly types you might see hanging around the 7-Eleven in Dumfries, Va., while the Athenians were posh Bethesda-ites polished to a high gloss and obsessed with shopping and appearances.
While the New York readings got F. Murray Abraham, Mercedes Ruehl and Kevin Bacon, the cast at the Source was a mixture of Equity and amateur actors who were rough (after all, it was a reading) but dedicated.
"I'm glad I came," Nina Danella of Washington said after the reading. "This is easier than marching."
Another audience member, Melody Clarkson, also of Washington, said she thought the play was "hysterical, but it would never work today. I mean, if my boyfriend were in the same situation, he'd just go and have phone sex. End of story."
Some simply couldn't get enough spirited comedic theater. Much of the Source audience moved on to Mimi's American Bistro near Dupont Circle for more "Lysistrata," more raising of public awareness and more healthy community dialogue about stopping diplomacy by violence.
Can you blame them? After the recent performances of the French and German representatives in the U.N. Security Council, who isn't tempted to stop diplomacy by violence?

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