Caste of thousands

A sorta-funny thing happened on the way to the ashram in world premiere ‘Bollywood Lysistrata’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

‘A Bollywood Lysistrata’
AIN’T NO TAJ MAHAL-ABACK GIRLS | Women withhold sex to get what they want in ‘A Bollywood Lysistrata.’

BOLLYWOOD LYSISTRATA
KD Studios Theater, 2600 N. Stemmons Freeway, Suite 180. Through Sep. 5.
Fridays–Saturdays at 8:15 p.m.
LevelGroundArts.com

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I’m not sure why so many playwrights feel compelled to adapt a 2,400-year-old Greek comedy and call it new art. I can think of half a dozen variations of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata in the last decade alone, the most recent being the musical Give It Up that the Dallas Theater Center premiered earlier this year. Well, the most recent until the current version, Level Ground Arts’ A Bollywood Lysistrata, now at the KD Studios Theater. Women withholding sex to get what they want? Isn’t that called marriage?

Anyhoo, LGA’s take moves the plot from ancient Greek to Raj-era India, where cricket has become an obsession for British men and their native counterparts — so much so that one sports-widow, Lakshmi (Rhonda Durant), convinces the women, Indian and English, to close their legs until the men give up the game. Talk about a sticky wicket.

And see? That’s one of the problems with the show. The jokes are so obvious — lots of double entendres about men and their bats, what they can do with their balls, etc. — that you tend to make up many of your own during the slow parts.

The adaptation by Andi Allen — who co-directed and co-stars as one of the British wives — is a hodgepodge of styles: The language is formalistic, even academic, sounding like a literal translation from the Greek. Even setting it in the 1890s, why not update it with modern vernacular? It’s also a Wilde-esque comedy of manners and, of course, a Bollywood musical extravaganza with silly acting, pointless dancing and beautiful costumes.

I actually liked the pointless dancing (with the word “Bollywood” in the title, you should know going in what you’re in for), and Jill Hall’s costumes are colorful — I’d enjoy more of both. But the acting? That’s as varied as the play itself.

Allen is one of the best at making her dialogue sound natural, and as the local ranee, Lorna Woodford commands her scenes. Even Camille Monae — who, as the horny Hindu Chandini, gets many of the best ribald lines — and Durant (a dead ringer for Catherine Zeta-Jones) holds the thread of the show together well.

Beyond that, it’s a free-for-all: Inconsistent accents; wildly goofy melodrama from Robert Shores and a low-budget Robert Morley impersonation from the marshmallowy R. Bradford Smith; and the raja is played by Jon Morehouse as a cross between Johnny Carson’s Carnac and Jafar from Aladdin. It’s impossible to stay in the moment who you aren’t sure whether it will be Mumbai or Marx Brothers from minute to minute.

There’s an exuberance, especially during the dancing sequences, that captures what’s fun about the Bollywood format, but I’ll just say thank you, I won’t come again.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 20, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens