By Mariah Schultz
Talking turtles, horny Athenians, and kiddy daiquiris are just a few of the delights in store if you dare to sit through the four hours of The Hypocrites’ The Aristophanesathon. That’s right, folks, you read that correctly. Four hours of Aristophanes’ eleven surviving comedies including two twenty minute intermissions. But rest assured, you will not be sitting the entire time.
As soon as you enter the doors of The Chopin Theatre, you’re encouraged to stay just as active as the six actors performing in front of you. You’re welcome to replenish yourself with snacks and water. There’s also a fully stocked bar (cash only) conveniently right next to the stage, and in case you needed encouragement, the lyrical poet Sappho aptly points out, “What will shyness get you that alcohol can’t?” Dinner and dessert are served during the two intermissions. And if that weren’t enough, you’re also treated to stretching songs from Sappho (Tina Mundoz-Pandya) halfway through each act to make sure you get up and move around.
The evening is divided into three seventy five minute acts or “episodes” with certain morals at the end of each act. The show is structured like a triathlon, and while it can seem exhaustive just from the list of titles, it feels like a sprint. The audience is transported back to ancient Greece where the plays fit the time. They’re comically inclined: juggling sexual innuendos, pop culture references, and of course, politics. Dionysus would be proud.
While The Hypocrites may be paying homage to the Greeks in their setup, the similarities pretty much stop there. Adapter and director Sean Graney has written this for an American audience after all. Instead of abiding by historical accuracy, he uses a modern attitude in approaching these classical texts to fit our time. His adaptation reminds us that the past can liberate us, while also haunting us.
The episodes revolve around a family with Praxagora or “Pants” (Kate Carson-Groner) as is her nickname, her younger sister Omega (Aja Wiltshire), and their mother Myrrhine (Sasha Smith). The three women grow, fight, and take charge not only in their personal narratives, but also in the political sphere—ultimately determining the future of Athens. Their sense of humor, personalities, and tenacity are earnest and elevated by strong, hilarious performances from the trio. The whole ensemble (Mundoz-Pandya, Carson-Groner, Wiltshire, Smith, Breon Arzell, and Kurt Ehrmann) play a variety of roles, navigate quick changes, and bring an abundance of energy to keep the play moving. Ultimately, the story centers around these three women, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The most successful allusions to our real world problems are when they are not completely beaten over our heads. In Episode 1, there’s a quick mention of how eleven year old Praxagora’s school has been shut down. Lysistrata advocates for fair and equal representation of women in Athenian government when they make up just a little bit more than the population. The existence of these problems in a removed time from ours reminds us how long issues of gender and power have plagued us, and we still struggle overcome them today. These problems do not come with quick solutions, and it’s often through loss and great consequence that younger generations are able to benefit from previous labors.
Whereas Episodes 1 and 3 excel in this balance of direct address to our current problems while still advancing their plots, Episode 2 makes the performance a tad sluggish. The laughs seem to diminish as does the energy. The comparisons of Kleon to Trump, and Omega and Praxagora as mixtures of Obama and Clinton becomes tiresome. Hot button issues of birth certificates, the refugee crisis, and insubstantial newspapers are so on the nose it gives you allergies. It’s not the end of the world, but irritates you for a while. Loose ends are tied up so fast that it makes you wonder why we couldn’t have just jumped to Episode 3. It’s definitely the least successful, and sadly unoriginal, part of the night.
As you may have guessed, The Aristophanesathon is just as much in on the joke as you are. It acknowledges its own absurdity like when proud patriarch Kinesias expresses, “I have to give my opinion all the time without people asking.” Euripides makes a surprise appearance in Episode 3 and any character who comes his way calls him out on how terribly he writes female characters.
There is something to tickle the fancy of everyone who comes to see The Aristophanesathon. Whether it’s seeing the messiness of democracy unfold, interrupted attempts at sex, or meta jokes about theatre, you’re sure to leave with a smile.