Jean Williamson, Chelsea Stockhaus, Becka Linder, Marcie Panian Berglund in Lysistrata.
Photo copyright Act One, Too, Ltd.
Twenty years ago, Craig Johnson wanted desperately to direct at Theatre in the Round. The opportunity came when another director dropped out, leaving Lysistrata open.
Johnson dove in, crafted his own adaptation of the classic Greek comedy, and never looked back. Two decades later, Johnson has led 30 different productions at TRP. It comes full circle this week, when a new production of Lysistrata opens under his direction.
"When I wrote it before, it was exactly when the Rodney King riots were happening in L.A. Now I'm working on it, and one of the themes Aristophanes included was a country that had gotten used to being at war. War is what they did in Athens. It's a critique of Athenian society, where they were living in a bubble. It was a prosperous secure society with a war industry underneath it," he says.
In fact, the central concept -- women withholding sex from their men until they stop fighting -- has been a tactic throughout history. Johnson notes that the "Lysistrata tactic" was recently used on Togo. "It's kind of brilliant," he says .
The piece is definitely a bawdy comedy, which not only pokes at the foibles of society, but also includes plenty about sex and phalluses. Large, visible stage phalluses, which become important players.
"It's a cartoony show and tell," Johnson says of that aspect of the show, noting that the original Greek performances would have taken it far more over the top than they do on the Theatre in the Round stage.
That arena stage is one of the attractions for Johnson. Another is being able to work with a large cast; he has 22 actors in the production.
"I love doing classical theater, with old plays and old texts," he says. "There's an ability for the modern audience to connect with people from another time and place. People will come and see it. They'll find it hilarious, but also go away and get the resonances.
"It kind of amazes me that a show with characters that were conceived 2,500 years ago could still work. That's the power and endurance of theater. There is a universality of some stories that it can still use."
IF YOU GO:
Theatre in the Round Players
245 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
Friday through Sept. 30
For information, call 612.333.3010 or visit online.