In Lysistrata, groups of women in Athens and Sparta band together and agree to withhold sex from their husbands until the perpetual civil wars in Greece come to a halt. They are tired of wars based on little more than pique and land-grabbing, tired of their sons dying.
Fast-forward 2,400 years to George W. Bush's fiefdom: As far as we know, the women of Washington have not yet begun the nookie embargo, but the actors of the world are doing the next best thing.
Lysistrata Project co-founder Kathryn Blume says she was working on a modern film update to the Lysistrata story when she decided to get involved with a group called THAW, Theatres Against the War. The light bulb of an idea blinked on, and Blume and co-founder Sharron Bower started sending e-mails to far-flung friends about doing Lysistrata as a modern protest in various cities. They started a Web site, and in a short time, says Blume, "it just exploded."
Countries including Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Greece -- where the comedy debuted when civilization was young -- will host performances. Blume says she is even trying to coordinate a get-together at a scientific research station in Antarctica so that every continent will truly have its own Lysistrata reading.
More than 30 readings in the New York City area will climax with a celebrity performance featuring Mercedes Ruehl in the title role, F. Murray Abraham, Peter Boyle and other surprise "name" actors.
Will this sort of protest really make a difference? "I don't think you ever get to know what kind of difference you've made," says Blume. "What I do know is that a lot of people have written in, talking about how excited they are about being involved, how much despair they were feeling over the potential war in Iraq, how little they felt they could do about it and how energized they are by participating in this worldwide movement. The play is about a disempowered population coming up with a creative solution for getting their voices heard, which basically what the Lysistrata Project is.
"The dream has always been to find a way to use theater to save the world. I can't guarantee, certainly, that we're going to save anything, but this is as close to having my dreams realized as I think I've ever come."
Curiously, the play has also inspired at least two real-life cases in which women refused to make love with their husbands as a way of advancing social causes. A group called Sudanese Mothers for Peace used the tactic to end a civil war there, according to Blume, and recently a Turkish woman organized a period of hump-lessness that wound up stopping a gold-mining concern from polluting the land.