ONSTAGE REVIEW: Modern adaptation of ‘Lysistrata’ gets lost in translation

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Even the most cultured ancient Greeks never shied away from low-brow jokes about sex.

Take Aristophanes, for example. The celebrated 5th century B.C. Athenian playwright made an art out of riffing on hanky-panky and the foibles between genders. His comedy “Lysistrata” is a perfect example — the play follows the fallout when the title character persuades women in Greece to withhold sexual favors from men in order to end the Peloponnesian War. The bad blood between the Spartans and the Athenians may be water long passed under the bridge, but the basic concept from the ancient story had modern legs for Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn.

The Ignite Theatre production of "Lysistrata Jones" by Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn is a modern twist on an ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes. The show runs until Aug. 11 at the Aurora Fox theater.
The Ignite Theatre production of “Lysistrata Jones” by Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn is a modern twist on an ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes. The show runs until Aug. 11 at the Aurora Fox theater.

Their 2011 comedy “Lysistrata Jones,” currently running for a short two-week stint on the Aurora Fox main stage, transports Aristophanes’ basic idea to a modern setting. Here, the title character leads the abstinence charge in order to end a college basketball team’s long-standing losing streak. Lysistrata Jones, a recent transfer to fictional Athens University, finds inspiration in Aristophanes’ classical work and convinces her fellow cheerleaders to turn frigid in order to inspire their boyfriends on the Spartans team to play better.

The writers cram plenty of pop-culture references into the adaptation of Aristophanes’ ancient story. The dialogue is campy, the action is overblown and allusions to Aristophanes’ play come alongside references to Joel Schumaker’s woeful take on the “Batman” film franchise. The Ignite Theatre production of the show fully embraces this campiness.

The effect is hit-or-miss. Despite a strong performance by Central City Opera vet Lindsey Falduto as Lysistrata Jones and innovative moments of dance, song and comedy, the effort to turn ancient hip is too often labored. The cast comes off more as caricatures than three-dimensional characters. Lysistrata is a strong enough lead, but her boyfriend Mick (played by Taylor Minckley) and the rest of the basketball team feel shallow and flighty. Uardo and Cleonice (Devin Bustamante and Kristel Jelinek Brown) speak in overblown Latino accents, and as Cineseas, Tyler Nielsen talks in exaggerated hip-hop speak. These roles have their moments, but the effect grows stale pretty quickly. Even the character Robin, played with high-energy skill by Melissa Morris, is never given the depth and insight her role demands.

Directed by Ignite co-founder and artistic director Keith Rabin, the Fox show revels in the MTV-speak and constant bawdiness of Beane’s book. Music director Blake Nawa’a leads a score seeped in ‘70s disco and soul, and the choreography by Stephanie Prugh and Jeffrey Parizotto is utterly modern.

The source material is never far away. Those tributes also come in the salacious tones of the show. Like Aristophanes, this crew never shies away from poking fun at men, women and sex. But this modern take too often gets muddled with caricature, camp and silliness to be truly profound or insightful.

“Lysistrata Jones”

Runs through Aug. 11 at the Aurora Fox theater, 9900 E. Colfax Ave.

Tickets start at $27.

Information: 720-362-2697 or ignitetheatre.com.

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