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Battle of the sexes

New Muses’ take on Lysistrata seeks a difficult balance

Cassie Jo Fastabend, as Lysistrata, leads a very talented ensemble. Photo credit: New Muses Theatre Company

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Editor's Note: Last week, Alec Clayton previewed the opening of Lysistrata. This week, Adam McKinney offers his review.

The battle of the sexes has been a trope, in fiction, for practically as long as there has been fiction. Along the way, it's been approached with varying levels of humor, tragedy, righteous anger, and practically every combination thereof. Unfortunately, gender relations have maintained their status quo of unease and wild imbalance, in favor of men. With the rise of the #MeToo movement and a shift towards finally imposing some accountability for the frequently shameful behaviors of men, it's the perfect time for any play exploring this dynamic to make its way to the stage. All that being said, the New Muses Theatre Company's production of Lysistrata is an admirable, if somewhat curious, choice.

Lysistrata dates back to 411 BC, with playwright Aristophanes detailing the women of various territories in Greece banding together to end the Peloponnesian War by withholding sex from their husbands. Its modern day translation is believed to have been anonymously penned by Oscar Wilde. While this subject matter is fraught with sociopolitical weight that remains relevant today -- and could easily be played for straight drama -- Lysistrata is largely pitched as a bawdy sex comedy, with streaks of fury too infrequently rising to the surface.

Cassie Jo Fastabend does great work as the titular character, crackling with visceral intelligence and confident defiance; she ties together a talented cast, including Jazmine Herrington, Kaylie Hussey, Colleen Michelle, Angela Parisotto, Amber Sayman, LaNita Walters, and Caitlin Waltzer, as the women who take a stand against their warlike husbands. Alex Luque, Keith Ordonez, Mason Quinn, and Nathaniel Walker are all game as the women's hilariously dopey foils - Quinn, especially, shines as ostensibly a man in power, soon rendered a pitiful mess.

While the notion of a sex strike is primarily seen as a punishment for the men, Lysistrata plays with the fact that most of the women are just as bummed out about it. With both sides struggling with the terms of the strike, Lysistrata soon becomes a series of scenes featuring women attempting to sneak out to be with their husbands, while the men shamble pathetically around town with their pants down, seemingly at a loss for anything else to do. 

Though there's a heightened, almost cartoonish energy to these scenes, reality punctures through the veneer in occasionally disquieting ways, as when Lysistrata addresses what the women should do if their husbands choose not to take "no" for an answer (if that happens, Lysistrata says, it's best not to fight it). It's in moments like this where the play does become a bit richer, but it also lets a lot of the air out of what's otherwise played as light comedy. 

Niclas Olson directs the production with a feel for the kind of boisterous energy needed to make the ornate dialogue flow, and the ensemble shares a relaxed chemistry that carries much of the show's weight. When Lysistrata works, it neatly balances raunch and social comedy. Finding that balance is a little hit or miss, but there's enough of it to recommend.

LYSISTRATA, 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through July 15, Dukesbay Theater, 508 6th Ave. #10, Tacoma, $10-$15, 253.350.7680,

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