The Most Difficult Plays – n° 5 : The Assembly Women
The weather’s gotten a little colder, so has my brain.
I can look back on my big challenge of the summer: identifying the most difficult plays to play, so that Altair will be at the top in the world of theatres.
This play is not insurmountable because it is ancient.
It’s horribly difficult to get on stage because it’s … how can I put it? it’s completely dumb.
I’m sorry to say that like that, without precaution. It’s my English that is very, very bad.
Usually, when you start talking about the literature of ancient Greece, everyone imagines themselves reading Plato again and nodding their heads with compunction (Plato – please). Those who have studied Philosophy go into A + B critique of the world of Ideas, and you’ll have three of them to knock you out with their version of the Cave. All this to say that, seen from afar, the ancient Greek writings are serious.
And then Aristophanes.
The first scenes of the Assembly Women destroy that in 3 seconds.
Very quickly, after seeing the women disguise and leave, the husband arrives.
Here’s a guy – an actor – groping in the dark, moaning and holding his belly.
Impossible to find his shoes and obviously not his tunic.
He’s in despair.
He can’t take it anymore, he has to get “it” out.
Too bad, he takes his wife’s beautiful veil.
He goes out.
He hides as best he can – he’s ridiculous, in an inappropriate outfit and his belly is exploding.
Of course, it’s always when you’re ridiculous that someone comes along.
There’s no shortage of that.
There’s the neighbour, wondering what’s going on.
Can you see yourself, with the diarrhea of the year, making conversation with your neighbor?
And the other one who bends over – who gives us the whole details: Hey man, you’re shitting ropes ! – top of the class and good education.
And here are our two actors who start talking about applied scatology – especially after the flood of “ropes”, bang, the pear – the obstacle, the obstruction: nothing comes out anymore nothing goes out anymore. We’re all stuck in “classy.”
Okay, okay – “dumb” is a wrong word for it. But for us, who are used to tonal units, to put a completely scatological scene into such a serious subject seems – at first glance – completely silly.
All this horrible adventure for what reason?
Because his wife took his shoes and tunic to go to the Assembly.
Like some other women.
Here are our guys stuck in the village – and their ladies in the assault on democratic power.
In the Assembly, women dressed as men manage to win support: it is better to entrust power to women, they are more hard-working, more economical, more attentive to their children, they do not throw themselves into all the technical innovations….
A number of laws are passed – very communist but Marx was not born at all – we will live in a communal way. We won’t have a regular partner anymore – as long as we accept sexuality first with the ugliest and most repulsive people…
Well…. Aristophanes then places the two obstacles to this beautiful utopia: the selfish man who will want to take advantage of others without sharing – and the lover who literally gets sexually assaulted by old harpies, while he only dreamed of his sweetheart.
It didn’t look like anything: but it’s these two points that killed both communism and the libertarian desires of sexuality for all with all (it’s in the hippie years that I think).
This means that Aristophanes knew his subject well – and that he did not write a utopian political manifesto at all.
What is difficult, for the staging, is to manage to find the “right tone”: the subject is serious – the treatment is absolutely brilliant but very disturbing for us – and the themes are so topical that one could turn it into a communist/feminist manifesto – totally forgetting the elements given by Aristophanes – who talked about democracy in Athens and gave his contemporaries something to think about.
Combining farce and seriousness without taking oneself seriously – yes, it is extremely difficult.
And not betraying a text for modern battles is even more difficult.
But it’s worth it!
—- I would like to point out- yes I do – that I avoided Lysistrata, also by Aristophanes – this one is censored directly. These ladies went on a sexual strike to prevent their men from going back to war. There are some scenes…. croquignolettes!very “hot”. But there are women who assume very well their own sexuality and their desire for a man. It’s … curious ? to see on stage women who assume that very well.
I also saved you the “Ancient Greek Costume” thing.
For comedy, it was worth the detour – but I don’t have a girl in the room anymore. The gentlemen would be shocked too.
As a result, the pathetic stagings with the “costumes in the manner of ancient Greece” will be NO. We have to adapt – or take back the real period costumes.
Featured Image : Mosaic of a Latin Comedy Mask : The Drunker / Bacchus