In response to Rob Kendt's column, The Wicked Stage & The Gag Reel (BSW, 2/13/03): The Lysistrata Project—the first global act of theatrical dissent—has mobilized theatre artists within Los Angeles and through out the world, with 528 readings in 36 countries to date, and afforded us an opportunity to unite as a community, to do something with our anxiety, to be creative in the face of destruction and fear. We are inspired, motivated, generous beyond past experience!
To my mind, Lysistrata as a play is not offering the literal solution to the world's problems, but instead provides an entree into a dialogue (just as it has here) about the goals and the differing ideologies that might provide the guidance to reach these goals. On a basic level it calls upon us all—not as women, but as a human community, as artists—to face the possibility of decimation with a unity of creative impulse.
Art is, by its very nature, political. It expresses a world view or questions its environment. Hamlet, in his advice to the players, reminds us that theatre's job is "to hold as t'were a mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image and the very age and body of the time its form and pressure." And when the image of our time is worthy of scorn, theatre must step out of its insulated fourth wall, dust off its classics, and return with a dazzling mirror to shame the age and body of our time. We are not politicians. We do not claim to have the answers. We are simply resourceful citizens and artists of this world who believe (because we taste it every day) that humans united in creativity can resolve even the most difficult problems. But first we must stop contemplating what is not possible and begin to dream of what is possible.
Lysistrata Project, L.A.
I write this because I respect Rob Kendt's reportage. I don't "take issue" with his piece on the Lysistrata Project, but I do feel he came down a little hard on a well-thought-out act of dissent.
You mention that the play is not suitable in the gravity of the present time. Yes, it is an awful regime over there, and the current political machinations over here are chaotic. Plenty of great comedy has been born from this kind of set-up. The present time provides nothing but inspiration to folks who you and I know are some of the most informed members of the L.A. theatrical community. Trust that. Instead of judging as-yet-unproduced political theatre, try to do that thing that requires courage: encourage it.
As for "light comedy," this is Aristophones we're talking about, not Neil Simon. The play was written in 421 B.C., 20 years after a brutal war began and 20 years before it ended. It was a play originally performed about a war occurring at that moment, hardly a small gesture in Hellenistic society. By dismissing the idea of this ambitious, feral, and polished project in gestation, you make me think all political theatre will fall on deaf ears in Back Stage West. All I have to ask, Rob, is to consider how your current opinion will look in the pile of dust it's found on in the future. I humbly ask you to rethink it. We sure could use your support.
Rob Kendt replies: I enjoy good political theatre, and welcome it as one would a good debating partner. The good news is, I think we're in a period of relative blossoming for this endangered genre, what with the various local productions of Chuck Mee's work, with Nickel and Dimed and Living Out at the Taper, with Times Like These and Johnny Got His Gun, with the upcoming Mayhem at Evidence Room. I and the critics of Back Stage West tend to be, if anything, overly enthusiastic about good political plays—and no less eager to take apart those we find preachy or insulting. If consistently showing up to bear witness, pro or con, to the work of L.A. artists could be called support, then Terry, we do support you.