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[casi] Worldwide Lysistrata

Globe and Mail Saturday, Mar. 1, 2003

Not tonight, I have a protest

By Michael Posner

What would Aristophanes have made of this?

On Monday, in protest against the looming conflict in Iraq, actors in (at
last count) 49 countries are staging readings of the Greek playwright's
ribald, 2,400-year-old antiwar comedy Lysistrata.

In the United States, as many as 1,000 separate productions are planned --
in all 50 American states -- 33 in Massachusetts and 18 in Chicago alone.

In Canada, the durable chronicle of a group of angry Greek women who decide
to withhold sex from their husbands in order to end the 28-year
Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens will be recited in seven
provinces, at more than two dozen venues and, of course, in two languages.

On the same day, there will be readings in London, Paris, Berlin, Athens,
Beirut -- indeed, almost every major world capital. Two readings are planned
in Reykjavik, one in Damascus and nine in Aristophanes's homeland, Greece.

There's even one in China, though neither the names of the participants nor
the location are being revealed to avoid problems with political

"Some of them will have to hold their readings in the privacy of their
living rooms to avoid danger," says project organizer Kathryn Blume. "But
they tell us it's worth the risk to be a part of this movement of hope."

In New York City, theatrical luminaries Mercedes Ruehl, F. Murray Abraham,
Kevin Bacon, Peter Boyle, Kathleen Chalfant, Delphi Harrington and Kyra
Sedgwick are lending their names and voices to the chorus of protest. In Los
Angeles, the lineup of stars includes Julie Christie, Alfre Woodard,
Christine Lahti, Mary McDonnell, Barbara Williams, Eric Stoltz, Ed Begley
Jr. and Jose Zuniga.

Money raised by the event will be donated to peace and humanitarian-aid
charities in the Middle East, though the principal objective is to rally
opposition to the war.

Like the recent wave of worldwide parades, naked sit-ins and demonstrations
against the prospective war, the Lysistrata Project can thank the Internet
for its exponential growth.

"It's a totally viral situation," concedes Blume, a New York actor who
conceived the idea last month. "It just took off."

Last month, Blume was trying to adapt Lysistrata for the screen when she
stumbled upon Theatre Artists Against War, which had already planned a March
2 protest against military adventure in Iraq. Blume mentioned it to another
New York actress, Sharron Bower, e-mailed a few friends and, within days,
they were launched, powered by the Web-site engine
( In addition to the cost of the Net
domain name ($30 U.S.), Blume says she's "maxxed out my credit card and
invested about $2,000."

Both men and women have been involved in organizing the event and Blume
insists there is no campaign to actually get women to withhold sex. "That's
not what the project is about, although if the wives of George Bush and
Donald Rumsfeld want to do that, we won't object. It's about letting the
rest of the world know George Bush doesn't speak for all Americans."

Of course, it might also be about letting the world know that Saddam Hussein
doesn't speak for all Iraqis, but so far there are no scheduled readings in

The power of the Worldwide Web to mobilize public opinion on behalf of
political causes seems to be growing. It certainly enabled organizers to
enlist support for the antiglobalization demonstrations in Seattle, Genoa
and elsewhere, as well as the Feb. 16 protests against the expected war
against Iraq.

The Lysistrata Project is a much smaller offshoot, but may represent the
first time the Net has been harnessed by a global community of artists with
such speed.

Lara Goldenberg, a freelance stage manager and Montreal organizer of one of
eight scheduled Lysistrata readings in Quebec -- at the Monument National --
says she stepped into the breach because everyone else was too busy. Alerted
by an e-mail from a New York friend, Goldenberg persuaded local artistic
directors (including Gordon McCall and Rachael Van Fossen) to perform as
actors. "Everything has been donated, even though this is the week of
deadlines for grant preparation. No one has said no to anything. But it's
absolutely not about getting women to withhold sex. It's merely a comical
way to denote that war is not the only answer."

Proceeds from the Montreal reading will go to Médecins sans Frontières,
which provides medical aid to populations in danger in more than 80

Scholars are not sure exactly when Aristophanes (circa 447-circa 385 BC)
wrote the play, but the updated translation (by Carolyn Feleppa Balducci) is
certainly rich in provocative double-entendres.

For example, when Lysistrata leads her friends in a closed-fist
oath-swearing ceremony against sex, they resolve not to open their doors to
lovers or husbands, though "he flaunts his battering ram . . . I will refuse
to put on anything except something he would like to take off . . . I'll not
raise my Persian slippers to the ceiling, nor play pouncing pussy. Both the
front door and the back door will be locked." The Balducci text also
contains contemporary references to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
and the Axis of Evil. In the play, the women occupy the national treasury
building, cutting off funding for the war. At first stunned and then angry,
the men spar verbally and physically with the women but, starved for
conjugal relations, eventually agree to suspend war and seek a peaceful
resolution of the conflict.

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