Kelsey holds a BFA in Theatre Studies and a BS in Cinema/Media Studies from the U of I in Champaign-Urbana. She's a freelance dramaturg, most recently working with Circle Theatre's Venus in Fur. Kelsey believes in theater's ability to change the world. A mix of wit and lit.
Pictured: Kaleb Van Rijswijck, Mary-Margaret Roberts, and Gina Francesca. Photo by Zeke Dolezalek.
By Kelsey McGrath
Let me begin by saying LYSISTRATA JONES is an extremely problematic show. Under the guise of “empowerment,” it reduces its female characters to sexual objects and uses them as devices for male victory. None of the “girls” have substance to their story and are primarily archetypes. Given this, their relationships with the “boys” don’t have meaningful stakes and every relationship results in romance. Many of the characters of color are reduced to racial quips and stereotypes, and sex workers are dehumanized as their occupation. LYSISTRATA JONES is like rewatching a 90s sitcom in 2017 and cringing at all the racism and sexist undertones you didn’t remember were there. This show is everything Chicago theatre is trying to move away from.
Now that that’s out of the way…
This production is bursting with young, exciting talent. The lead, Lysistrata, is played with gusto and quirk by Mary-Margaret Roberts. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this actress sing and absolutely won’t be the last. She brings a sincere personality to a one-dimensional character. Her on-stage relationship with Xander, Kaleb Van Rijswijck, is so charming. Van Rijswijck is the scrappy underdog we’re all rooting for. Collin Sanderson has such heart as Mick, the misunderstood jock. And I was so excited to see Gina Francesca again since her moving, powerhouse performance in BARE. I honestly could go on and name an exciting thing about every single actor in the cast. As an ensemble, their cohesion and sound are incredible. The choreography, by Shanna VanDerwerker, utilizes this large cast and the found space in a way that energizes the whole show.
I advocate for Refuge Theatre Project; as they are relatively new and still learning. They clearly have the resources and talent to put together an impressive production. Scene Designer Evan Frank made use of the Unity Lutheran Church 2nd floor gymnasium in a way that was beautiful, practical, and really fun. His movable walls transport us from place to place and suspended our disbelief. Lighting by Collin Helou & Jennifer Kules was impressive; how do you light a gym so artfully?
I am continually amazed by the quality of work Refuge produces but hope for more mindful show selections in the future.
LYSISTRATA JONES runs until November 19th. For more information visit refugetheatre.com.