I’ve attended multiple performances of a production many times in the past. When the now-defunct Stage 1 did Children’s Letters to God, I saw every single one of the show’s 8 or 9 performances. I was at the theater mostly for logistical reasons but nothing was compelling me to watch the show every time. I chose to watch it every time because it was an awesome production.
In other cases, a show like VA Rep’s The Color Purple has compelled me to take different groups of friends to it as proof of the quality of Richmond theater.
For Quill’s Lysistrata, starring Grey Garrett, I saw the show three times mostly for business reasons. My new venture, Behind-the-Scenes RVA, dovetails perfectly with Quill’s mission: they seek to produce theatre worth talking about and one of my goals with BTS-RVA is to provide context that can inform those conversations.
After seeing the show for the third time, I realized how my perspective on the show had changed and, also, what I was focusing on in the third viewing versus the first. To whit:
- There are some comedic powerhouses in this cast. Jeff Clevenger and Maggie Bavolack, in particular, are so talented that they can generate laughs with a look or a line delivery. After the first viewing, theirs were the performances I remembered. But after repeated viewings, I gained appreciation for CJ Bergin as the Spartan herald who had several very choice bits and absolutely nailed them every single time. I also grew to love the playful dynamics between Michael Hawke and Melissa Johnston Price and the small comic moments they capitalized on, Michael getting a hearty laugh by dangling his feet like a toddler and Melissa’s sarcasm after removing “the mother of all gnats” from Michael’s eye. Certainly, a good chunk of credit must be given to director James Ricks for locating these moments and elevating them, but the execution was also exceptional.
- In part because they are obscured behind masks, it’s easy to overlook the work of the chorus of old women who seize control of the Acropolis. Some choice lines are delivered by Katherine Wright, Addie Barnhart and especially Amanda Durst with her rambling fig rant.
- I’m sure epic poems could be written about the beauty, both unclothed and clothed, of Terrie Elam as Ismenia/Peace. But it is also her sweet clear voice that lends another layer of pathos to the show’s final scene, rising up a cappella as the gravity of what has happened sinks in.
- And while on the subject of the beauty of the cast, it’s worth mentioning that, in Lysistrata, Rachel Rose Gilmour bolsters the significant cred she earned through a stellar performance in The Toxic Avenger as much more than just a pretty face. She shows exceptional comic chops in her teasing of a delightfully confounded Adrian Grantz; she’s one of many reasons I’m looking forward to 5th Wall’s Murder Ballad.
- Having seen Grey Garrett in a range of excellent roles, at first I came away from Lysistrata disappointed about her part. As I described in the Curtain Call podcast, she’s kind of the scold of the piece, forced to repeatedly browbeat her team into staying in line. It was only through repeated viewing that I saw more of the subtlety of her performance, her very fun teasing of Kinesias as her approaches the Acropolis, her look of anticipatory victory right before she brings Peace out to the inflamed negotiators. I still have liked her better in her restrained mania in The Wild Party or as the unexpectedly empathetic White Queen in Alice. But she still manages to shine in this less meaty role.
- Ah, the ending. While at first I was conflicted by the ending, I’ve grown to really appreciate it. Out of the numerous choices James Ricks had in wrapping up what is usually kind of a “meh” ending to the story, he took a bold choice, a somewhat unsettling choice, but one that puts a succinct button on the underlying issues addressed in the show. I’m sure it is somehow inconsistent with different conventions – either of traditional Greek comedy or arguably of modern “sitcom” comedy – but for me, it makes me leave the show with more to chew on rather than just walk away blithely satisfied at being well entertained.
There are issues of feminism and sexism that have been talked about rather openly thanks to the Style review and the response James wrote to it so I’m not going to circle back on them now. These issues were debated quite rigorously among people who came to the Behind-the-Scenes tours. And that kind of conversation is pretty awesome, I think, and just goes to show that this was indeed theatre worth talking about.
By the way, if you’re reading this, please tell your friends and family (and strangers on the street) about future Behind-the-Scenes opportunities; there’s one coming up for RTP’s Cloud 9 this Friday and Firehouse’s Desire Under the Elms the first week in November. More talking about theater will hopefully get more people to get out of their houses and attending live theater. That’s a win for us all!