Get Philosophical: Lysistrata at the Philosopher’s Stage

One of my beloved summer traditions is going to go see theatre outdoors. I’ve gone to at least one outdoor show every summer since I was a kid. On a warm summer night there’s nothing lovelier than a picnic basket, a blanket and a live show. So, when I heard that Canopy Theatre Company‚Äôs Outdoor Theatre for Downtown Toronto was performing on the Philosopher’s Stage at Philosopher’s walk, I decided to buy some artisan cheese, grab a blanket and head to the stage.

Photo of the stage entrance, courtesy of Hart House.
Photo of the stage entrance, courtesy of Hart House.

“Lysistrata” is a comedy originally penned by the renowned Athenian playwright Aristophanes. It was first performed in 411 BC. Here’s a quick plot rundown: the Athenian men have been at war with the Spartans for years now. The women, sick and tired of the constant stress and inanity of war rally behind strong and beautiful female protagonist, Lysistrata, who leads a “revolution” of sorts. Basically, the women blackmail the men of Athens and Sparta into a peace treaty using nothing but their “womanly wiles.” The show is known for considering traditional gender conflicts and toying with the idea of women’s liberation in bawdy, slap-stick form, and includes plenty of jokes that would not have been out of place in secondary-school gym class.

You've probably seen one of these posters around campus...
You've probably seen one of these posters around campus...

The show is set in a courtyard just off of Philosopher’s Walk and behind the Faculty of Law Building. It’s a simple stage, just a podium in the center of a grass field and small stage that masquerades as a male bathhouse that has been taken over by these revolutionary women. The audience sits all around the performance on blankets or folding chairs. (Blankets and chairs can also be rented if you’re too lazy to bring your own!) A lot of people bring picnic dinners to the performance, and there were countless couples on date nights. (Although, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if this sexually-charged play centering around the battle of the sexes is the greatest date play!) Even if you don’t want to bring anything to the show, it’s still nice to be able to stretch out on the grass as you’re watching, instead of being cooped up inside of a theatre. Oh, and fringe benefit: because the cast moves around so much, both onstage and through the audience, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house.

The show itself is lighthearted and fun, driven by a strong ensemble cast that mainly consists of scantily clad ladies and men in towels. The show itself is guffaw-inducing, with a score of self-aware horns and trumpets accenting the more ridiculous double entendres that run amok throughout the play. I personally spent most of the time in giggle-fits due to the wonderful costuming (my favorite part involved a strong, muscular Athenian man parading around in an apron and a frilly red shower cap.)

So, is the show absurd? A little bit. Ridiculous? Oh, definitely. Family friendly? Absolutely not. Feminist friendly? Debatable. (Although, interesting to note that the adaptation used is actually the translation of famed-feminist Germaine Greer.) Worth seeing? For sure.

The show plays Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm until August 6th. On Wednesdays, the show is Pay-What-You-Can, otherwise it costs $8 for students. The stage itself is right in between Trinity College and the Faculty of Music. If you’re on Harbord walk East past Trinity until you see a big gateway indicating Philosopher’s Walk. Turn left, and you should see a bunch of stairs coming up on your right (just south of the Edward Johnson building!). And boom: you’ve found it!

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