Bard Fest: Women give men a (very) hard time in ‘Lysistrata’

This is part of Indy Bard Fest 2022, the annual Indianapolis area Shakespeare Festival. For information and tickets, visit indybardfest.com.

By Wendy Carson

With the Indy Bard Fest production of “Lysistrata,” Holly Hathaway-Thompson has done an amazing job of updating Aristophanes’ story of women’s empowerment. She not only made the storyline more accessible to a modern audience, but also shows the true meaning behind its purpose: Women have the power to change everything if they just stand together in their resolve.

The story begins in the not-too-distant future with a young girl (Missy Waaland) approaching her grandmother (Miki Mathioudakis) for more information about the election of 2022. Grandmother is horrified to learn that only a sentence or two about this time exists online and one of those is on bleach vaccines. She then begins the story, “There was this woman …”

We are transported to an alternate reality of Greece in which Lysistrata (Carrie Reiberg) has called together all of the women of the various tribes to set about her plans for P-E-A-C-E (the spelling of this word is vital throughout). Though many of the representatives have disputes among themselves, they all agree that they are sick and tired of their men being away at war all the time. Lysistrata puts forth her simple plan: They will all withhold any romantic or sexual favors until the men agree to give them a Peace.

Surprisingly for some, this is almost as difficult for the women to uphold as it is for the men to endure. Therefore, the women take over the capital for themselves alone until their demands have been met. The men do not take kindly to this tactic and try everything to persuade the women from their resolve. However, even the most bull-headed of them men finally give in to their basest needs and agree that they will meet the demands of peace, healthcare, education, living wages, etc. This brings about the blissfully benevolent future of our Grandmother and Grandchild – a future where men do not control women’s bodies or destinies.

With the source material being a comedy, Hathaway-Thompson has given the cast some truly hilarious lines throughout. Her amazing cast manage to squeeze every possible drop of laughter from each one.

Reiburg brings a slyness to Lysistrata you don’t always see in this role. This was a woman who literally brought a nation to peace with a very simple plan. Mathioudakis is brilliant in her dual roles as Grandmother and Colonice (Lysistrata’s closest ally), bringing the wisdom and experience of both characters. Waaland’s turn as the Grandchild and Ismenia allows us to see the counterpoint naivete of her youth.

Tracy Nakigozi portrays Andromeda as a wary but proud woman who puts aside personal conflicts for the good of the whole. Lucy Fields as Lampito is a comic delight as she bemoans the travails of this lack of intimacy upon herself as well as the men. Scott Fleshood (Xander), shows another side of this longing as the lone representative of those who also love men even though being born with a Y chromosome. Samantha Kelly (Medora) and Nikki Lynch (Cassandra) both do a great job of helping to keep the men in their place.

Jessica Crum Hawkins (Myrrhine) plays one half of a married couple that, despite their love and desire for each other, are still at odds on the matter. Matthew Socey (her  husband, Cinesias) brings comic timing to a new level as he is continually and painfully denied the fulfillment of his desires.

Also at loggerheads are the Leader of the Women (MaryAnne Mathews), Leader of the Men (Robert Webster), and the Magistrate (Eric Bryant) each of them chewing up the scenery as if it were their final meal.

Speaking of the men, being that the story surrounds the baseness of themselves, they are mainly comic relief. However, each brilliantly shows their ability to handle these barbs – especially Jurrell Spencer as the Herald who has apparently “cut a hole in the box.”

I was saddened to discover that most of the audience had never head of the story, but proud of their reception to it afterwards. I do adore this play. It has an important message and it needs to be heard throughout our country and the world.

You have your chance this Friday through Sunday, Oct. 14-16, at The Cat theatre, 254 Veterans Way in downtown Carmel.

CCP: Explore ‘Curious Incident’ with unique mind

By Wendy Carson and John Lyle Belden

Christopher John Francis Boone is 15, a mathematical genius who finds all social and physical interactions terrifying. This is because Christopher is autistic. He lives alone with his father in Swindon, UK, having lost his mother two years earlier.

His love of animals brings him out one night to visit the neighbor’s poodle, Wellington, only to find it killed. Since he’s found kneeling with the dog, he is initially accused of its death. When the responding policeman tries to calm him down, his touch causes Christopher to lash out and be arrested. The misunderstanding is cleared up, but Christopher is left with a warning on his permanent record.

Discovering the murder of a dog is too irrelevant to be investigated, he decides, against his father’s strong wishes, to do it himself. This results in him having to talk to his neighbors, who to him are strangers, but he is determined to overcome his fears and solve this mystery, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.” This 2015 Tony-winning play by Simon Stephens, based on the acclaimed novel by Mark Haddon, is on stage at the Cat Theater through March 6, presented by Carmel Community Players. 

While he does eventually find the killer’s identity, the path to that information has Christopher discover a huge family secret and embark on a journey that tests his resolve and the very limits of his abilities.

The staging, like the novel, is from Christopher’s point of view. Director Larry Adams and his crew (assistant Karissa Monson, lighting and video design by Eric Matters, set by David Muse, and sound design by Lori Raffel) excellently deliver the technical aspects of his world with all its abrupt stimuli, cacophonous sounds, and tangled language. 

Being on stage the whole time, the role of Christopher is demanding to start with – add to this a British accent, various physical tics and almost constant movement and it turns into a Herculean challenge. In his first leading role, Noah Ebeyer is spectacular in embodying the part. He never seems to act; we only see the troubled genius trying to make sense of his world, get the answers he feels he deserves, and get to school in time to take his Maths A-Levels exams. Adams agrees with the talk of the performance being award-worthy, marveling at how Ebeyer took naturally to the role. And while the boy he plays may be put off by us strangers, he makes us feel something special for him.

Christopher’s teacher Siobahn (Lori Colcord) provides support and reads to us much of his inner dialogue from a notebook he had kept. Earl Campbell is sharp as his father Ed, struggling to do what’s best for Christopher and learning the hard way the consequences of keeping facts from one whose mind relies on them for his whole life’s structure. Nikki Lynch plays Christopher’s loving but overstressed mother Judy.

The rest of the cast – Tanya Haas, Kelly Keller, Cathie Morgan, Gus Pearcy, Ryan Shelton, Barb Weaver – morphs from one character to another (people as well as inanimate objects) while also voicing Christopher’s self-doubts and thoughts. No actual dogs were killed in the making of this show – including Bob Adams in a touching canine cameo.

Also, you will cheer for a mathematical solution! (Stay through the curtain call.)

The Cat is at 254 Veterans Way in downtown Carmel. Find information and tickets at CarmelPlayers.org.

Bard Fest play catches the conscience of the Queen

By John Lyle Belden

One interesting thing I find in TV talk shows is the stories of celebrities who meet other celebrities, not as coworkers or equals, but as mutual fans, starstruck at each other. Imagine if the most powerful woman in the world were to meet an actor whose performance she found to be exceptional. It happened, and William Shakespeare was there to see it.

“Elizabeth Rex” is perhaps the greatest play Shakespeare could not have made, as the title character could easily have had his head removed to decorate the Tower of London. So it was left to acclaimed playwright Timothy Findley in 2000 to speculate and dramatize what happened on a fateful night in 1601 following a command performance – by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I – of the Bard’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” 

You don’t have to know anything about that comedy to enjoy the Bard Fest adaptation of “Elizabeth Rex,” just know that in Shakespeare’s day, all women’s roles were played by male actors, and the rest of this drama’s set-up you can get from context. The setting is a barn at the estate where the play’s after-party (for aristocrats, not lowly actors) is being held, with everyone being stuck indoors as a curfew was declared by the Queen to maintain the peace before the Ash Wednesday execution at dawn of Robert, Earl of Essex – believed to be Elizabeth’s lover, but convicted of treason. 

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men grumble about their surroundings as they remove their makeup and tap a keg of warm ale, but the mood totally changes when their Royal visitor arrives. She is regal, the others reverent, but eventually all relax. “I shall require distraction,” Elizabeth declares.

The Queen (Holly Hathaway Thompson) is quite impressed with the men who played female leads, especially Ned Lowenscroft (Jay C. Hemphill), the play’s Beatrice, and Harry Pearle (Scott Fleshood), who played Hero. She even remembers when Percy Gower (Alan Cloe) would show some leg in his skirts in years past (the old actor loves to reminisce, a recurring comic point). To Jack Edmond (Matthew Walls) who played Benedick (who verbally sparred with/wooed Beatrice in “Much Ado”), Elizabeth shows disdain, perhaps conflating the actor with the role, resenting his being Irish, or both. She also isn’t thrilled with big-mouthed Luddy (Matthew Socey) who she sees as little more than a living version of Falstaff (a great Bard Fest in-joke for those who have seen Socey in that role). Also on hand is Matt Welles (Anthony Logan), who is handy with a guitar; nearly blind seamstress Tardy (Susan Yeaw), always losing her glasses to comic effect; and a bear, which Lowenscroft had rescued.

Quite literally above it all, at his desk in the loft, is Shakespeare (Eric Bryant), working on his next play, “Antony and Cleopatra.” He feels at a loss for what words to put in legendary rulers’ mouths, so makes notes of things the Queen says. This proves problematic when she insists on seeing the script.

Attending Her Majesty are Lady Mary Stanley (Nikki Lynch) and Lord Robert Cecil (Abdul Hakim Shabazz). An attentive soldier enforcing the curfew (Andy Burnett) also appears, as well as, briefly, Countess Henslow (Afton Shepard) to plead in vain for the condemned’s life.

Much of this drama comes down to the interplay between Elizabeth and Lowenscroft, who, because he is dying, exercises a bit of license with the Queen. For her part, resolved to spend the night on the level of her subjects in the barn, she accepts being chided and contradicted – even touched – as the gay actor teaches the monarch, ever required to show a manly demeanor, to get in touch with her woman within. Thus, even in a very talented cast, Hemphill and Thompson stand out with extraordinary performances. 

Glenn L. Dobbs, a Bard Fest producer, directs from a script he adapted with Barbara Willis Sweete and Kate Miles. 

As has been noted, this at times intense drama is peppered with some great laugh-out-loud moments. It also gives a sense of what an important time this was in Elizabeth’s reign. The hour chimes periodically, bringing our players closer to the dawn, when our fantasia ends and true history resumes.

Remaining dates are Friday through Sunday, Nov. 12-14, at Theater at the Fort, 8920 Otis Ave., in Lawrence. Get info and tickets at www.indybardfest.com and www.artsforlawrence.org