Theater / Film

Review: Main Street Players’ ‘Christiana Lysistrata’ blends laughs with a letdown

Written By Christine Dolen
February 22, 2024 at 1:11 PM

Amanda Ortega, JaVonda Carter, Shana Goldman, Brittany Nicholson and Sara Jarrell take refuge in a church in Vinecia Coleman’s “Christiana Lysistrata” at Main Street Playhouse through Sunday, March 3. (Photo courtesy of Olimac Media)

Aristophanes’ 411 B.C. “Lysistrata,” in which the women of Greek city-states try to end the Peloponnesian War by withholding sex until peace is achieved, is an ancient Greek comedy that endured because of its author’s brilliance and the timeless truth-telling it contains.

In a place like South Florida, “Lysistrata” is more likely to be produced in an educational setting than by a professional regional theater, maybe because producers or artistic directors are wary of trying to sell a play so steeped in ancient history to their audiences. But sometimes (though not always), new takes on old plays can create fresh conduits for connection with contemporary theatergoers.

Main Street Players in Miami Lakes commissioned playwright Vinecia Coleman, a writer and actor based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, to write a different “Lysistrata” for the company.  Coleman has retained the bones of Aristophanes’ classic in her “Christiana Lysistrata,” but she sets the play near a church in a rural village in western Europe during the High Middle Ages (which lasted from 1000 to 1300 A.D.).

Amanda Ortega, left, and Shana Goldman are best friends in the Main Street Players premiere of “Christiana Lysistrata.” (Photo courtesy of Olimac Media)

So the Greek references are gone, but we must enter the High Middle Ages and deal with (likely) unfamiliar terms such as “Catharism” (a dualist Gnostic movement) and “Beguines” (a medieval lay order of women leading lives of devotion).  The former is the “crime” of a heretic who gets questioned and executed in the first scene.  The latter group becomes the latest target of the village’s always-ready-to-fight men – until the widow Christiana Lysistrata (Amanda Ortega) steps up and leads the women into a different sort of battle.

Christiana’s Best Friend (Shana Goldman) and her Husband (Sergio Tamayo) are an example of what’s wrong with married life in the village.  Best Friend cooks, cleans, takes care of the children, works the fields.  Husband, who lost an eye in a previous crusade, asks what’s for dinner.  They both enjoy sex – but is that enough to offset the imbalance in everything else?

When Christiana convinces the women to join her in the no-sex edict and lock themselves away in the church, things go swimmingly for a time. While the men walk around in agony (just ask them), the women enjoy good food and each other’s company.  Eventually, they start tossing out ideas for things that could change their  world: a wheelbarrow, glasses, a more logical market square, something like a coffee shop.

But the forces of men, the church and misogyny are mighty.  Let’s just say that “Christiana Lysistrata” doesn’t have the same sort of upbeat ending Aristophanes devised.

Adriana Caraballo, Brittany Nicholson, JaVonda Carter, Roderick Randle, Sara Jarrell (center), Amanda Ortega, Shana Goldman, Cameron Holder and Sergio Tamayo appear in the Main Street Players premiere of “Christiana Lysistrata.” (Photo courtesy of Olimac Media)

Coleman supplies plenty of laugh lines, but director Katlin Svadbik and the cast deliver what looks and sounds a little too reminiscent of a Monty Python sketch (not that the play is at that level), working-class British accents and all.

Except for Ortega as the earnest and intriguing Christiana, the other seven actors play multiple roles.

Goldman is charismatic as Christiana’s Best Friend, a woman who can connect with joy despite her daily drudgery.  Brittany Nicholson is funny as the Bishop, a man who mangles Christiana’s first name repeatedly and who takes it for granted that women will obey him. Sara Jarrell is deliberately annoying as the Priest, appealing as one of Christiana’s group of rebels. Stage manager Roderick Randle plays a villager who has no lines, but he does more with zero words than others do with many.

Amanda Ortega plays the title role in Main Street Players’ world premiere production of “Christiana Lysistrata.” (Photo courtesy of Olimac Media)

Adriana Caraballo gets two plum roles, one as the Old Man threatening to burn down the church, the other as God in all Her splendor.  JaVonda Carter is the Old Woman who is not about to let her elderly, nasty hubby incinerate her friends.  Cameron Holder sparkles as a guy who dresses in bright colors, does his makeup better than most of the women and wonders if just maybe he was born to be something else.  As the Husband, once Tamayo settles into his role, his timing and delivery are more potent than anyone’s.

The production values in “Christiana Lysistrata” are basic at best.  Ashley Rivas’ gloomy gray set requires the appearance and removal of benches throughout the play.  Angie Esposito’s costumes are colorful, but some don’t fit.  Lighting designer Amanda Sparhawk combines with sound designers Benjamin Olmos de Aguilera and Adrian Gonzalez to make God’s entrance a snazzy one.

It’s admirable that Main Street Players tried to find a way to make “Lysistrata” a funny, accessible, thought-provoking experience for its audiences, many of whom do laugh at the script’s jokes and bawdy references. But qualitatively, on too many levels, “Christiana Lysistrata” is a battle lost.

WHAT: World premiere of “Christiana Lysistrata” by Vinecia Coleman

WHERE: Main Street Playhouse, 6812 Main St., Miami Lakes

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Sunday, March 3

COST:  $30,  $25 for students and military personell with ID

INFORMATION: 305-558-3737 or mainstreetplayers.com.

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com

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