Burlesque, Greek Theatre, and Resistance collide in how.dare.collective’s adaptation of Lysistrata, performing as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. First written and performed in ancient Athens by playwright Aristophanes, it is commonly found on the required reading list for most theatre undergrads. This production, however, is anything but a snoozer.
In this comedy about love, war, and gender politics, the widowed heroine Lysistrata leads the women in Greece in a sex strike. Their ultimate goal? Convince their husbands to cease warmongering. It is a premise in which the addition of musical strip-teases entirely makes sense, and it serves to remind the men of what they’re missing.
As a site-specific performance, patrons are taken out of a traditional theatre space and seated in The Painted Lady, a kitschy tavern built for live music and burlesque shows. Since venues of this sort are historically more appropriate for the likes of intimate, cabaret performances, it is not a hard sell. If there is a drawback to the small space, it’s that taking in all the moving and shaking can be a bit difficult. However, the audience clamoring and rubbernecking is part of the fun of the burlesque medium.
What immediately struck me about the performance was the body diversity of both the male and female cast – the women of Greece were represented by a variety of shapes, sizes, colours and dance expertise . This helps a great deal to emphasize the message of women supporting one another and finding strength in unity. Although unpacking Ancient Greek text and adding a feminist lens for modern audiences is not a new thing, adding a metric tonne of glitter and tabletop-dancing certainly helps. St. Stella wows as the leading lady, managing her team of wild women with exasperation every woman can relate to, and a coy confidence most of us dream of having.
The cast as a whole make for an amiable and hysterically funny unit, reciting their verses in such a way that feels conversational and real. And of course, they leave none of the frothing, abundant innuendo of the text uncovered. Although an ancient drama, it is the mother of modern lewd comedies and touches on aspects of sexuality that haven’t much changed. Their deliveries are wholly relatable, and inspire endless glee in their audiences.
As the play addresses a number of political and interpersonal dynamics, the typical burlesque routines are sandwiched with dialogue. Although every number is well-choreographed and crisply rehearsed, it doesn’t eclipse the plot, rather being inserted where it serves the story. As such, seasoned burlesque-goer may be used to shows without an overarching plot, and may be caught off-guard by this production. To say that the burlesque acts are incidental is a disservice to the enormous talent of the women and men in the cast, but the numbers are treated as a narrative device.
Ultimately, this is a show with many assets, most of which are covered in glitter and gyrating an inch in front of you, but the greatest of all they’ve got to offer is heart. Between the slapstick and strip teases, the power of love, laughter, and freedom are fearlessly affirmed. This is, in all seriousness, the best burlesque I have seen in Toronto.
- Lysistrata is a site-specific show and plays at The Painted Lady located at 218 Ossington Ave
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- 90 minute runtime.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Seating capacity is 60 persons
- Content Warnings: 18+ show, nudity and sexual content, fog machine, audience participation.
5th July 7:00pm
6th July 7:00pm
8th July 2:00pm
9th July 2:00pm
10th July 7:00pm
11th July 7:00pm
12th July 7:00pm
13th July 7:00pm
15th July 2:00pm
16th July 2:00pm
Female cast from Left to Right: Amanda Lundgren, Brittany Cope, Stella Saint, Amanda McKnight, and Jenna FC .Photo by David Kingsmill.