The Bard’s Town Theatre is resurrecting the ancient Greek story of Lysistrata in the premiere of a new comedy about sex, politics and patriotism.
Louisville playwright and Bard’s Town executive director Doug Schutte set his adaptation, “Misses Strata,” in modern-day Washington, D.C., where one woman tries to change politics as usual using an ancient sex-strike strategy. The play, directed by The Bard’s Town artistic director Scot K. Atkinson, pits the women of the capitol (including some familiar names, like Hillary and Laura) against the male leadership in the war on legislative gridlock.
“Misses Strata” opens Thursday at The Bard’s Town and runs through June 23. It’s a Beltway satire about what can happen when nothing happens in Washington.
“Instead of necessarily just stopping war—and that’s part of it, needless war and all that —but it’s really just to get people who are supposed leaders to actually get something accomplished, which is sort of a double-edged sword, because I might actually be afraid if the people who are there now got something accomplished,” says Schutte. “But that’s their end goal, to be people you might actually want to be in office.”
Sexual politics endure
Aristophanes premiered the original tale of a Greek heroine who convinces her fellow women to withhold sex from their men to force the end of the Peloponnesian War in 411 B.C. The battle of the sexes has evolved a bit over the last two and a half millennia, but Lysistrata’s strategy continues to inspire contemporary adaptations, from Israeli writer Anat Gov’s 2001 anti-war play “Lysistrata 2000” to Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn’s light-hearted college basketball musical “Lysistrata Jones,” which wrapped a Broadway run earlier this year.
“Lysistrata” is one of Schutte’s favorite classics from his college years. The last time he re-read the play, he found himself surprised at how relevant Aristophanes’ work still is today.
“It’s 2,500 years old, and they’re talking about these problems that are, if not the same, even more acute now,” says Schutte. “I like to take things like that, which are odd enough to begin with, and make them even odder.”
For this production, that means patriotic songs are given new lyrics (a twist on the Greek chorus) and both sexual innuendo and timely political jokes abound.
But Schutte’s absurd comic sensibility is also informed by a deep interest in Joseph Campbell’s theories on myth-building, as well as the power of religion and politics.
“We talk about Greek mythology, but when it was happening, it was Greek religion,” he says. “The way we look at founding fathers, and politicians and religion just fascinates me to begin with. I find myself drawn to those types of stories, and then looking at the fascinating construct of the individual and society and where that balance lies.”
New plays thrive thanks to restaurant downstairs
“Misses Strata” is the second new play by a local writer to open at The Bard’s Town Theatre this season (Nancy Gall-Clayton’s “The Snowflake Theory” opened last month). About half of the season’s six shows are Kentucky-bred, and usually brand new. Schutte and Atkinson also produce The Ten-Tucky Festival, an annual bill of world premieres of short plays by Kentucky writers. Schutte says the theater’s emphasis on new work generated about 500 play proposals from across the country and Europe in the last year alone.
“It tells you how little new work is being done (in the theater world),” he says. “I get, on average, maybe three full-length play submissions a day.”
Though the theater company is only in its second season, an active new play development program is already emerging. Rather than testing new work with staged readings, Schutte says he prefers to jump right in, involving the playwright in the rehearsal process and relying on his growing ensemble of regular actors to help refine a script on the spot.
“The end goal is to see it become more of a development lab alongside the productions. The lab can feed the next season, especially if we can start to get a nice, small group of playwrights whose work we really enjoy,” Schutte says.
Schutte and Atkinson can experiment with untested material because their theater is housed inside the restaurant and bar (also called The Bard's Town) they own with partner Jon DeSalvo. The theater company is a nonprofit organization, while the restaurant is not. They keep expenses down by relying on social media marketing and hosting other local ensembles like Looking for Lilith and Le Petomane when the company is dark. The theater space itself is small —60 seats—so they don't have to sell many tickets to have a hit.
“A show doesn't need to bring in thousands of people,” says Schutte. “Hundreds of people make it very successful.”
The Bard's Town Theatre does pay its actors, but Schutte won't pay himself royalties for “Misses Strata,” nor will Atkinson draw a director's salary —they’re busy making their restaurant profitable instead.
“I wouldn’t have opened the theater without the restaurant, because I wouldn’t have been able to afford it,” says Schutte. “And I wouldn’t have opened just a restaurant without a theater, because that just didn’t appeal to me. The two feed each other.”
“The restaurant allows me to do something I’ve been itching to do for a long time,” he adds. “I think it does free us.”