Odyssey Theatre presents a gift of Greek theatre

David Warburton and Catriona Leger in a scene from Odyssey Theatre's latest production, Lysistrata and the Temple of Gaia. Photo: Noah Davidson of Noah Davidson Film

Could a sex strike and an ancient Greek play halt the impending ravages of climate change?

Toronto-based playwright David S. Craig figured there was an outside chance of exactly that, so he wrote Lysistrata and the Temple of Gaia. Inspired by Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Craig’s new play is billed as the world’s first eco-sex comedy. 

The Odyssey Theatre show, which has its world premiere July 26 in Strathcona Park, is set 100 years in the future when climate change has sunk its fangs deep into the earth. Humankind, being humankind, is apathetic, dismissing it as just the vagaries of weather. Then Gaia, the ticked-off Earth Goddess, shows up, promising to destroy humanity unless the planet gets a hit of TLC.

The women agree, the men refuse, lovemaking becomes the hostage, and a battle of the sexes ensues.

In Aristophanes’ original, the women withhold sex in an effort to end the interminable and bloody Peloponnesian War. Craig, who directed Odyssey’s award-winning The Fan in 2012 and once acted in Lysistrata himself, spotted the possibility of recasting Aristophanes’ play when he was re-reading the script a few years ago.

“Aristophanes had a clear and present danger because they were in the middle of the war,” says Craig. “But our reaction to climate change is extremely ambivalent. There will be people in my audience who don’t believe in climate change. There may be people who think, ‘Yes, there’s climate change, but we don’t have to do anything about it’ – witness the (new) Ontario government. And you’ve got people who are passionate about having to do something. How do you perform to all those people?

“So I set it the play in a fictional place in the future where we’ve done nothing, but the problem has gotten a million times worse.”

Social relevancy always runs the risk of torpedoing creativity with earnestness and heavy-handed messaging, Netflix and pop music both being repositories for those sunken vessels. However, Craig believes his take on the subject of the environment will work for the same reason Aristophanes’ play succeeded: Lysistrata wasn’t about the Peloponnesian War so much as it was about men and women and the crazy things we all do for love.

Aristophanes’ approach is no doubt one reason his play has been adapted as everything from a musical to an inner-city movie.

Like his own show, Craig says, “Those adaptations are men against women; women who want something – to change men’s behaviour – and the way women do that is to take away … sex. That’s fun and a traditional theatrical trope. It’s enduring and infinitely interpretable.”

Craig says his own show, which focuses on three couples and their different types of love, also plays with a number of Greek and other theatre conventions, including chant and direct address as well as the mixing of high and low comedy. “I wanted to make a mosh pit of all these styles and see if I could make a coherent evening out of it.”

The playwright says he’s also stirred in elements of Commedia dell’Arte, the comic theatre style that flourished especially in the 17th century using masks and stock characters for its social satire. Odyssey Theatre, which premiered in 1985, was originally a Commedia dell’Arte company but has, in the past few years, moved into productions that employ but don’t rely exclusively on Commedia conventions. 

Craig says that in Lysistrata and the Temple of Gaia, “You’ll see elements of Commedia and a very interesting interpretation of mask that I won’t tell you about, but I think it’s a way of keeping that Odyssey tradition going.”

He says his show also brings a political element to Odyssey that hasn’t been evident for the past few years.

The root system of Craig’s new play is far reaching, from ancient Greece through the Commedia dell’Arte period to the present and a century hence.

“It shows we’re a (species) who tells the same stories over and over again,” he says. “There are certain essential elements in stories that we find appealing. In theatre, we’re something of a time machine.”

However, Craig says the repetition of those stories may have another, less positive, implication: “I guess it’s that we didn’t learn the lesson the first time.”

Lysistrata and the Temple of Gaia is in Strathcona Park (Sandy Hill) July 26-Aug. 26. Tickets and information: 613-232-8407, odysseytheatre.ca  Tickets are also available at the venue 30 minutes before the performance.

Share Post
Written by

Patrick Langston covered English professional theatre for the Ottawa Citizen from 2008 to 2016. He also wrote about music, travel, the local housing industry and other subjects for the paper. Patrick continues to contribute to Ottawa Magazine, Diplomat and International Canada Magazine, and other publications.