Lysistrata Jones: Filling the basketball void left by the NBA lockout

Mark Milner
November 22, 2011

Back on Nov. 14th, the National Basketball Players Association disbanded and filed antitrust suits in Minnesota and California. As those go to court, things don’t look great for basketball fans. Chunks of season continue to be cancelled and there’s persistent talk about missing the entire thing.

In the meantime, hoops fans are to some different places to get their basketball fix. There’s NCAA ball, high school ball and the myriad minor leagues across the country. There’s pro ball over in Europe; one can watch Adam Morrison run amok in Russia, if one wants to stay up all night, watching grainy, foreign language feeds. But wait! There are other, more socially acceptable options, ones you can actually do with friends. Like seeing a play.

There’s been a streak of sports-centered plays on stage in the past few years. Most famously was “Lombardi,” the drama based on David Maraniss’ biography of the famed Packers coach. Less a play about football than one about the personalities behind the game, it ran until May of this year. Early next year, a play about Larry Bird and Magic Johnson will hit stages.

But opening this December is “Lysistrata Jones,” a play about a losing basketball team and what it takes to keep its program around. It’s somewhat similar to another, more famous sports-related play: “Damn Yankees.” Both are musical comedies about teams on losing streaks who finally put it all together in a way teams usually don’t. But where “Damn Yankees” invoked Faust, this invokes a story from ancient Greece.

It’s based on the ancient Greek comedy “Lysistrata,” originally performed in 411 BC. The main focus of the plot involved the Peloponnesian War – essentially Athens v. Sparta. The women from both sides stopped sleeping with their husbands until a truce was called, thus ending the war. It’s notable for the way it brings women to the forefront; a reversal of the primarily patriarchal society of Greece.

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“Lysistrata Jones” builds off those elements: it joins Athens University as the men’s basketball team enters a 30th-straight losing season. New transfer student Lysistrata Jones combats that streak by convincing the player’s girlfriends to stop sleeping with their boyfriends until the hapless team wins a game (hence the song “Giving Up Giving it Up”).

It’s about basketball, yes, and there’s actual on-stage action, but it’s not really a story about sports. In a blog post, writer Douglas Carter Beane explains how the play was written in the wake of 9/11 and is “about optimism, about positive change.”

It wasn’t always about basketball, either. It was originally about a losing football team, until it was suggested it’s hard to sing with a helmet on. But it has a history with the sport. At one point, the play was staged on a basketball court, which is fitting, because there’s actually some play involved: one character has to hit a layup.

There are some good names behind the production of “Lysistrata Jones.” There’s Beane, whose 2007 play “The Little Dog Laughed” was nominated for a Tony award. Its cast featured Liz Mikel from Friday Night Lights and Josh Segarra, who’s also on Homeland.

Sure, there might not be any basketball at The Garden on 8th Avenue. But about 20 minutes north on the subway there’s something going on. It might be about a losing team, but, hey, the Knicks turned things around last year. Watching Athens U. try the same should be just as entertaining. And it’s probably a whole lot funnier.

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The Author:

Mark Milner