The authenticity of the environmental storytelling of Refuge Theatre Company continues to immerse audiences directly into the story in their latest production of LYSISTRATA JONES. The comedy and pep of this production elevates classic Greek comedy into modern musical comedy.
Classic Plot with a Bold Setting
The show takes the premise of the Greek comedy LYSISTRATA and updates the setting to present day at an American college. The original story, in which the women of Athens refuse to have sex with their husbands and lovers until the Peloponnesian War ends, now centers on a lackluster basketball team and their cheerleader girlfriends.
Refuge Theatre Company Makes Setting a Character
As always, the action of the production dictates the physical location where the production takes place. In this case, the setting is a gymnasium so that is where the audience finds themselves immersed. The bold choices of settings often work incredibly well for Refuge. However, this particular setting choice leaves a lot of the lyrics and dialogue inaudible. There are clearly jokes that are being missed because of the echo in the environment and lyrics that are delivered by more than one person at a time are muffled and mix together and cannot be deciphered. Thankfully, the cast is so vocally talented that the more powerful songs are clear as day.
There are definitely positives about the setting, such as basketball being played on an actual basketball court and the stadium-like lighting design stands out among the technical aspects of the show.
There is also a very large space for dancing. Shanna Vanderwerker’s choreography is a marvel. The group dance numbers are a fun spectacle and the more intimate songs contain beautiful movement.
Talent and Passion
The entire ensemble is full of talent and enthusiasm. It seems like everyone is just where they want to be and where they belong. Mary-Margaret Roberts embodies Lysistrata with passion. Her voice fills the vast space of the gym and comes through loud and clear. Maisie Rose captures the outsider character with comedy and grace. Collin Sanderson gives realness to the “dumb jock” persona and brings the audience through the journey of his character with charm and intelligence.
In this writer’s opinion, this is a fun and hilarious production that is unfortunately swallowed by its environment. If this exact cast, choreography, direction, etc. could all be transported to a more conventional venue, the quality couldn’t get much higher. However, it’s still a fun production to see in this kind of environment, so it is definitely worth muddling through the problems to see this wonderful cast break out of it.
Photos by Zeke Dolezalek
Note: an excerpt from this review now appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Top Pick For: Lovers of Musical Comedy
Not recommended for: Musical Haters
October 20 - November 19, 2017
Thursday - Saturday at 8pm
Sunday at 6pm
Unity Lutheran Church, 1212 W. Balmoral Ave., Chicago
Online at www.refugetheatre.com
By phone at 800-737-0984