Classical Greek drama and comedy are rarities on South Florida’s professional stages. But to launch a 2018 season of “classical and classically inspired plays,” Fort Lauderdale’s Thinking Cap Theatre is taking on one wild comedy by Aristophanes.
“Women in Assembly,” written in 391 BC, is known by several different translated titles. Thinking Cap artistic director Nicole Stodard compared a trio of translations (by Kenneth McLeish, Stephen Halliwell and Jeffrey Henderson) to create her own performance script for Aristophanes’ bawdy satire.
The comedy imagines overworked Athenian women donning disguises to go to the all-male assembly and, with oratorical skill as their weapon, seizing power from what they see as the failed political-societal establishment.
Their leader is Praxagora (Casey Dressler), an inspiring speaker who readies the women to infiltrate the men’s civic bastion by having them don their husbands’ clothes and symbolic red cloaks, along with wigs and beards fashioned from mop heads. She has them practice raising their hands high to vote — a right forbidden to women — and though the others try to make persuasive speeches, Praxagora gets the nod since she’s the only one to fully inhabit a male persona.
Meanwhile, their husbands have awakened to discover their wives and their clothes missing. Praxagora’s hubby, Blepyrus (Michael Gioia), improvises, donning her nightgown and sandals, then staggering around and loudly complaining as he looks for a place to relieve his severe constipation (the scatological content is pure Aristophanes). His friend Pheidolos (Jim Gibbons), similarly deprived of his clothing, emerges from his house dressed in his wife’s nightie and yellow pumps. The visual is far funnier than the way the women look dressed as dudes.
The women’s cross-dressing trickery and Praxagora’s eloquence spell success. With the gals in charge, vast societal reforms become law. Private wealth gets banned. A common fund provides for all. Dining is communal. Free love is A-OK, with the stipulation that the old and ugly must be satisfied first.
The play’s conclusion, with the gals swigging wine and partying as the guys frantically engage in the drudge work formerly relegated to women, suggests that empowerment and exploitation have simply switched genders.
Thinking Cap’s production of “Women in Assembly” is full of antic creativity. Many moments and notions land effectively, while many others do not. Director Stodard, who also designed the costumes, projections and sound, teases out or underscores meaning with pop-culture references or snippets of such songs as the “Pink Panther” theme, “Holding Out for a Hero,” “Thriller” and “Neutron Dance,” the last delivered as a disco declaration by the newly empowered, glammed up Athenian women.
Stodard’s staging of the new sexual order — older folks get first dibs — borrows from the 1965 Milton Bradley board game “Mystery Date.” When the randy Epigenes (Noah Levine) comes looking for love, he discovers four very different gals concealed behind blinds.
Hag One (Sally Bondi) is dressed like Miss Haversham from “Great Expectations,” and as the eldest of the four, she demands her right to go first. A mean Girl (Carlos Alayeto), looking very much like a hairy Snow White, is far more appealing to Epigenes, who’s cocky a la Mick Jagger. But Hag Two (Vanessa Elise), dressed like Snow White’s Evil Queen, and Hag Three (Carey Brianna Hart) also lay claim to his attentions, pulling at him until he shouts, “I’m not a f---ing wishbone! How can I paddle two canoes at once?”
Each of the actors has a standout moment or two. Sabrina Lynn Gore’s, for example, comes as she auditions with deliberately bad renditions of two songs (Gore is actually a fine singer), trying to get the job of Town Crieress. Gioia and Elise, however, are working on another level, fully connecting with characters devised by Aristophanes and shaped by Stodard.
With a gray-dominant set by Alyiece Moretto-Watkins and color-splashed lighting by Joel De Sousa, Thinking Cap’s “Women in Assembly” has plenty of thought-provoking content for a contemporary audience. Some will find its broad comedy hilarious. Others may see it as slapstick overburdened with ideas that don’t achieve a cohesive, cumulative power. To each his — or her — own.
“Women in Assembly” is running through March 18 at the Vanguard, 1501 S. Andrews Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday (a preshow component begins 15 minutes before each performance). Tickets cost $40. To order, call 954-610-7263 go to ThinkingCapTheatre.com.