This past Sunday, Masque and Gown put on a modernized and translated rendition of the Greek play, “Lysistrata,” on the Bowdoin College Museum of Art steps. The play follows a group of women who withhold sex from their male partners in hopes of ending the Peloponnesian War—a lighthearted end to Ivies weekend.
The Greek comedy, written by Aristophanes, was originally performed in 411 BCE. There is a long tradition of Masque and Gown performing plays on the Museum steps. The building is architecturally influenced by the Greek style, a fact picked up on by audience members.
“I feel like the setting definitely was a selling point … The Museum steps kind of have that Ancient Greek feel to them with pillars and all that,” audience member Noah Zuijiderwijk ’25 said.
Classics major Francesca Kusserow ’24, who translated and adapted the play, was excited to combine her theater experience with her interest in Greek. Kusserow acted in Masque and Gown’s play “Much Ado About Nothing,” where she met Sinclaire Ledahl, the director of Lysistrata. She has taken Greek for three years, and is currently in Advanced Greek.
“I took five translations by various scholars, each of whom interpreted the play differently, and I read through each one,” Kusserow said. “They all had their own twists and styles of language—some lines were more lyrical, phrased funnier or cleverer, some lines, I thought, were translated in a more understandable, modern way. I cut and pasted and summarized until it felt right.”
It was important for Kusserow to stay faithful to the original work while making sure that the jokes in the play were relatable enough to land with the contemporary audience. However, the age of the Greek language sometimes made it challenging to modernize the play in alignment with her goals.
When deciding which play to work with, Kusserow narrowed down her translation choices to “The Clouds” and “Lysistrata,” both by the Ancient Greek playwright, Aristophanes. She was struck by the theme of female empowerment in Lysistrata and believed that Lysistrata’s comedic commentary on gender dynamics would be an uplifting and lighthearted choice.
“The alternative options were great, but to me, they were not as topical,” Kusserow said. “I thought, the lighter, the better. The more feminist, the better. The Classics professors were quite supportive, giving me advice on how to approach the play and make it understandable yet true to the original writing.”
Actor Colleen Doucette ’24 initially did not plan to audition for Lysistrata. After tagging along with friends to their auditions, she improvised an audition and joined the cast.
“It was really fun for me because I’m queer and I was playing a [straight] character. So I also think it was fun for my friends to be able to watch that,” Doucette said.
Kusserow looks forward to potentially directing another Greek production in her remaining years at Bowdoin.
“Ancient Greek is called a ‘dead language’, but I strongly believe that Classics is very much alive due to its impact on the world, and the overall response to the play proves that,” Kusserow said. “Lysistrata is proof that clever writing and biting, raunchy comedy is timeless and funny to audiences of any period. The whole play is about how powerful and awesome women are and that’s a message we always need to hear.”
Francesca Kusserow ’24 is a member of The Bowdoin Orient.