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A play for peace

Aristophanes' classic antiwar comedy Lysistrata will be read around the world Monday as a dramatic statement against conflict.

By MARTY CLEAR
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 2, 2003


If you're an Aristophanes fan, Monday is your day.

No matter where in the world you find yourself that day, chances are there's a reading of Lysistrata, Aristophanes' antiwar comic masterpiece, near you.

There are German and English readings in Vienna, two readings in Cambodia, a couple in Iceland, one in Latvia, more than a dozen in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, and at least three in this area.

In New York, one reading will feature F. Murray Abraham, Mercedes Ruehl, Kevin Bacon, David Strathairn, Kyra Sedgwick and other big names. In several countries, national theater companies will stage readings.

More than 900 groups in 56 countries have scheduled readings of the play. More are coming on board every day, and even the official numbers were conservative.

"We're sure there are readings we don't know about," said Kathryn Blume, co-founder of the Lysistrata Project.

It was just last month that Blume, a New York actor, got the idea for "a worldwide theater event for peace." She had been working on a screenplay based on Lysistrata and thought it would make an ideal vehicle for the event.

"For being a couple of millennia old, it's extremely timely," she said. "It doesn't just deal with war. It deals with gender politics, control of public funds. It's the story of people who don't feel they have a voice in their society undertaking a successful nonviolent act."

Blume came up with the idea of having groups in different countries reading the play -- in which women withhold sex from their husbands to get them to stop fighting -- on Jan. 6. That day, she and Sharon Bower, another New York actor, started e-mailing theater friends to test the waters.

By the next day, readings had been scheduled in New York, Seattle and Austin, Texas.

Within a few days, "e-mails were pingponging around the West Coast," Blume said, and dozens of groups had signed on. In the first few weeks, Blume and Bower's total budget was $30, for registering the domain name of their Web site, www.lysistrataproject.com. One of the e-mails reached Gorilla Theatre in Tampa.

"Because of the outlook and attitude of both Aubrey Hampton and Susan Hussey (the theater's founders), who are both very much in favor of finding peaceful solutions, we decided to get involved," said theater spokeswoman Michele Young.

A staged reading is scheduled at Gorilla and the FSU/Asolo Conservatory in Sarasota. There's also at least one private reading, at an apartment complex in Dunedin.

Like many ancient Greek plays, Lysistrata is intended for large casts. Gorilla Theatre is using a translation that calls for more than 70 actors. Most productions around the country will include professional and amateur actors, plus a lot of just plain folks.

"Ours will include FSU/Asolo Conservatory students, Asolo staff and people from the community," said Kendall Kelley, a spokesman for the Sarasota Lysistrata Project.

At the conservatory, organizers are asking for a $5 donation. At Gorilla Theatre, they're asking a minimum of $15. All the money will go to peaceful causes, but exactly which causes hasn't been decided.

That's a common situation with participating groups around the country. Because many are state-supported or nonprofit groups, they have to adhere to strict rules governing their donations. They have been frantically working to get their readings together and haven't had time to find recipients.

Officials at both Gorilla and FSU/Asolo say they have gotten a phenomenal response from the theater community and the public.

But Young said Gorilla Theatre also received one angry e-mail.

It read: "Are you nuts? Do you want your children to have to deal with this monster when he has a full supply of missiles?"

The writer was obviously referring to Saddam Hussein, but Young said the Lysistrata Project isn't just about the possible U.S. attack on Iraq.

"It's North Korea, it's everybody," she said. "If there's conflict anywhere in the world, there's conflict for the entire world."

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