Lysistrata: We"ll laugh their threats back in their faces, Really put them through the paces!
Douse their fire with icy reason, "til they cry out, "This is Treason!" Then we"ll laugh at them some more - "til they stop this stupid war! Women: In the name of Aphrodite, women shall be known as mighty! On March 3, women in nearly 400 cities around the world will stage readings of the ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata, engaging in what is thought to be possibly the largest act of global dissent of its kind. Groups in more than 30 countries - including the U.S., England, Serbia, Honduras, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Malaysia - are hosting performances of Aristophanes" 2,400-year-old play to voice their opposition to a U.S.-led war with Iraq. It"s an idea Aristophanes himself would surely have loved. Aristophanes wrote the bawdy satire Lysistrata as a response to the Peloponnesian War, a brutal conflict that raged between the Athenians and the Spartans for 28 years. The play"s protagonist, Lysistrata - her name means "releaser of war" - rallies the women of Athens to withhold sexual relations from their husbands until they agree to make peace with Sparta. The women sequester themselves inside the Acropolis and take control of the Athenian treasury, cutting off the men"s access to money as well. At first the men are incredulous, but the women hold firm, sparring verbally and physically with the men until they finally capitulate and sign a peace treaty. The play"s comedy stems not only from its witty banter, but also from the premise itself: In those days, the notion of women taking control of the government was laughable because, in reality, Athenian women rarely left the house. A great deal has changed in the intervening millennia, but women and children still bear the brunt of wars made mostly by male political and military leaders. According to Dr. Mary Trotter, an IUPUI professor of English who is organizing an Indianapolis performance of Lysistrata, the play remains very relevant in today"s political climate. "Aristophanes wrote the play in 411 BCE, in an Athens that was economically, and physically, and spiritually exhausted from overextending itself; their imperialist project had really worn them out. Aristophanes wrote a play that spoke to that exhaustion, and talked about opportunities and alternatives for his audience. He wrote it to really talk about how love and wisdom and restraint can overpower more immediate responses to conflict." In one of five Indiana readings, more than 20 IUPUI students, faculty and staff will join with community members to perform the play at 7 p.m., in the Lilly Auditorium of University Library. The actors will be reading from a new translation of Lysistrata, which includes references to "Homeland Security" and "the Axis of Evil" among the more familiar sexual puns and innuendoes. Trotter believes the new translation gets closer to Lysistrata"s political essence. "Today we tend to think that it"s really just a play about sex, but Lysistrata is really about more than sex - it"s about the need for community and connection," she says, "but the sex is what makes it funny. It"s not just about women not having sex with their husbands, but also women taking control of the seats of power." This may have been a fanciful notion to the ancient Greeks, but a group of Nigerian women deployed a different spin on Lysistrata"s approach to great effect last summer. In protest over the exploitative practices of Chevron Texaco, hundreds of women occupied its oil pipeline facilities. Once there, they threatened to remove their clothes, a gesture of profound shaming in Nigerian culture. Chastised, Chevron Texaco promised to create new jobs for local workers, and provide funding for school and hospital facilities. The actions of these and other creative women activists around the world inspired the Lysistrata Project founders, New York actors Kathryn Blume and Sharron Bower, to organize the March 3 readings as a constructive way to protest the U.S. rush to war. The Lysistrata Project points out that a U.S. war with Iraq will disproportionately harm women and children in both countries. Unpublished U.N. estimates reveal that invading Iraq could cause injury, starvation or disease to more than 500,000 innocent civilians, the majority of them women and children; here at home, the estimated $60-$100 billion cost of a conflict would divert crucial federal funding away from social services already struggling to meet the needs of the most vulnerable families. Though the university itself takes no position on war with Iraq Trotter hopes the IUPUI reading of Lysistrata will provide an opportunity for a public conversation about other solutions to the Iraq situation. Following the free performance, the Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center and the Peace Learning Center will be on hand for a post-play discussion. But why stage a comedy in response to such a serious threat of war? "While tragedy, especially Greek tragedy, tends to be about inevitability, comedy has always been about possibility," Trotter explains. "Comedy is about breaking down lockstep thinking, and thinking about other ways to approach problems, other ways to approach the world." University Library is located at 755 W. Michigan St. For more information about the Lysistrata Project, visit www.lysistrataproject.com. For more about the play, and life in ancient Greece, visit the Web site of IU Bloomington"s recent production www.indiana.edu/~thtr/2002/lysistrata/lysistrata.html.