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Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Getty Villa has long been renowned for the antiquities on display. In addition, however, the museum presents classical Greek plays, with a comedic modern touch, under the stars in the late summer and early fall. The Getty Villa and Troubadour Theater Company are currently presenting “Lizastrata,” a musical retelling of Aristophanes’ ancient, somewhat raunchy comedy using Liza Minnelli’s greatest hits offering a welcome return to live theater.
The Times Do Not Change
For those unfamiliar with ancient Greek comedies, they are a mashup of teen sex comedies and political satire. They feature fake large phalluses, cross-dressing characters, mimicry of politicians, and timeless topics. Based on the play “Lysistrata,” first presented in 411 B.C.E., demonstrates the art form with an over-the-top (sometimes too over) flourish. It may seem trite today to present a gaggle of seniors with saggy boobs and overly well-endowed gender-bending characters; after all, they were doing it 2,500 years ago! And, it still gets laughs.
“Lizastrata” is basically an anti-war, women’s empowerment play that is sadly still as relevant today as it probably was when it debuted during the Peloponnesian War. Matt Walker, artistic director of the Troubadour Theater Company, adapted Aristophanes’ work and directed this, also jokes about contemporary topics, such as COVID-19, the Jan. 6 insurrection, different California communities, and Ted Cruz.
‘Liza with a Z’ and Show Tunes Add Zeal
Walker gets things going as the emcee from “Cabaret,” Liza’s Oscar-winning movie. His version of “Wilkommen” encourages attendees to “leave your troubles outside,” with an additional line that “we have no COVID here.” The line “happy to see you” now ends with “from 10 feet away.” The Getty show’s version of the song “Cabaret” notes, “What good is sitting alone with Facetime and Zoom? Come hear the music play.”
The title character, Lizastrataa, is played with fervor and sass by Cloie Taylor. She convinces the women of Athens to protest the long war with Sparta. Her strategy to get the men’s attention is staging a sex strike. “We don’t give a piece until we get some peace,” she says. This leads another character to whine, “No more sex in this city.”
Singing the “Money Song” from Cabaret, the striking women also take over the treasury in the Acropolis. A chorus of bumbling old men arrives to try and force the women to give up. But a chorus of old women arrives to thwart them. This is where the show at the Getty sags, but it is fairly true to the original play here.
Songs worked into the plot were made famous by Liza or were performed in musicals she did. They include “Mein Heir;” “Maybe This Time;” “All That Jazz;” “New York, New York” and “Liza with a Z.” Some of the lyric changes are awkward, like turning “New York, New York” into “No Pork, No Pork” as the strike begins. The talented cast also performed dance numbers reminiscent of Liza (think of the chairs in the choreography for “Cabaret” and “Chicago”) and the shows she brought to life.
Besides displaying the artworks in the J. Paul Getty Museum’s antiquities collection, the Getty Villa, offers theater performances like “Lizastrata” to give visitors insight into ancient Greece and Rome’s cultural and political life. Attending plays and concerts were common social aspects of life in the era. Admission to the Getty Villa and Getty Center is free of charge. However, reservations for timed entry are currently required (and masks!) due to current COVID-19 restrictions. Tickets for “Lizastrata” range from $36 to $48, and seating in the theater is limited. Contact the Getty Villa for more information. Finally, given the raunchy rendition of ancient times, “Lizastrata” at the Getty is recommended for theater patrons ages 15 and up.
Written by Dyanne Weiss
Performance Sept. 10, 2021
Arts Beat LA: “Lizastrata” at the Getty Villa
Ancientliterature.com: Greece – “Lysistrata” – Aristophanes
Lizastrata art © 2021 J. Paul Getty Trust
Photos by Craig Schwartz of Matt Walker as the Emcee and, left to right, Jess Coffman as Valley Deb, Cloie Taylor as Lizastrata, and Suzanne Jolie as Ojai Amy.