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SEX BATTLE: The cast of Lysistrata, from left, are Matt Butler, Chris Holcom, Michael Monroe, Jonathan Harrison, Elizabeth Fendrick, Christen Petit, Roz Potenza, Marie Hyman and Caitlin McDonald.

What's surprising about Lysistrata, currently playing at the Shimberg Playhouse of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, is how long the actors are able to make it work before it inevitably collapses under the weight of its adolescent sex humor. In fact, thanks to Elizabeth Fendrick in the title role and Roz Potenza, Jonathan Harrison, Chris Holcom and Caitlin McDonald among other actors, there's a clarity and crispness to this production that holds our attention for about half the play's 75 minutes.

But then the script's juvenile obsession with the male erection and with copulation in general simply becomes tedious, and all the fine acting in the world can't make the proceedings entertaining. (It may simply be impossible to make this script work in modern times; I've seen a Greek filmed version, and it suffers from precisely the same problems — the crudeness and redundancy of Aristophanes' original.) So, kudos to TBPAC for bringing us one of the classics, but next time, how about one with some resonance for adults?

The best thing about Lysistrata is its premise: that the women of Greece might refuse sexual favors to their husbands until those maniacs finally give up their murderous war mongering. When Fendrick's Lysistrata first announces this quid pro quo, we in the audience can't help but be impressed: It's a clever stratagem with a worthy intent. But within moments, her various countrywomen are moaning over the idea of losing access to "the prick," and the real tenor of the comedy — Cheap Sex Gags Tonite! — is ineluctably set.

There's nothing wrong with bawdy banter, you say? Well, in how many ways can you hear a woman say that her intent is "massive," that "it's big enough for all of us"? Or that the women of Athens will "do anything for a good ride"? How about those "8-inch do-it-yourself kits," or the women's threat to "take things into our own hands"? How many puns on the sex act can you find fascinating? For instance, "Put the prong in the hole"? Or maybe "Give it a stretch"? Will the men of Athens "rise to the occasion"? What if they've "been up for weeks?" Will the horny Spartan "take the cucumber out of your pocket" — or is that a "rod of office"? Had enough? You think it's funny to see an Athenian walking around with his tunic hoisted by his erection? Well how about four Athenians? How about one of those well-endowed Spartans? Isn't it great to be 16 years old again and having a good, high school snicker?

And yet ... the crew over at TBPAC actually makes it work for a while. Low farce or not, it's a pleasure to see the talented Fendrick back on stage after too long an absence, and Harrison (the aforementioned Spartan) is proving to be one of the best and most versatile actors in this area. The set, designed by directors Karla Hartley and David Jenkins, is a pleasant rendering of an unidentified Greek locale, including miniature classic columns, an inscribed circle on the floor (the ancient "orchestra?") and a backdrop depicting a Greek male and female hailing each other. Joy Platt's costumes — mostly tunics in every hue, and a full-metal bra for one woman — are fun and allusive, and there's an admirable precision to Hartley and Jenkin's staging.

Occasionally one of the characters — Lysistrata, usually — has a line about the horrors of war, or the right of women not to see their children murdered in battle, and we can nod in agreement, and marvel that these things were understood 2,500 years ago. And I suppose there's something vaguely illuminating in the discovery that ribald humor hasn't really evolved very much from antiquity to now. But even so ...

"Then, why are you carrying that spear under your cloak?" "That, sir, is not a spear" ... "But tell me, how are things in Sparta?" "Hard, sir, hard."

Hey, we got it the first time.

Two's a Crowd. Sometimes even the most tedious theater experience can be redeemed by the appearance of a fine actor. And that's how I felt recently at Let's Play Two, the romantic comedy currently playing at Ybor City's Silver Meteor Gallery. This overlong, under-inspired yawner is about Phil and Grace, two baseball-infatuated lovers, and the vicissitudes of their romance, conducted at the ballpark, in the bedroom, and, mostly, in the car.

Author Anthony Clarvoe has nothing original to say about love, sex or the Minnesota Twins; his two characters are generic, with lowest-common-denominator eccentricities, and their problems (commitment, sincerity, babies) can be investigated more deeply on All My Children. And still the production has something to recommend it: the performance of Drew Valins as Phil, the Harmon Killibrew fan who likes road trips without preconceived destinations.

Valins plays callow Phil with so much specificity, in such convincing detail, one can only wonder what he might do in a part of real significance. Bridget Richardson Bean is ingratiating as Grace, and director Skip Volkle's work is competent, though it doesn't solve the problem of scene changes. But it's Valins' work that shines here, even when he's sitting in the painfully primitive orange construction at center stage that's supposed to represent an automobile. This is a gifted performer who makes it all seem effortless.

Area producers, heads up: there's a talent here you should know about.

Alice Redux. Twenty-six years ago, USF student actors Jeff Norton and Rosemary Orlando joined other fledgling performers in Andre Gregory's theater adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. One thing led to another and soon there was a new theater company in town, by the name of The Alice People.

Well, theater companies come and go, but all these years later Jeff Norton's still around as actor, director and USF instructor. This weekend and next, he's staging USF students in — you guessed it — Alice in Wonderland. He's directing it in the no-frills style called "poor theater" — nothing but actors, an audience and an empty space. And he's instructing his performers not to hold back. "This is a real high-energy show," says Norton. "At the end of the play, the audience should be just as exhausted as the actors."

Will it all lead (again) to a new theater troupe? Alice in Wonderland runs at 8 p.m. June 14-16 and 20-23 and at 3 p.m. June 17. Tickets are $8, $4 for students and seniors. It takes place at Theatre 2 of the University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa. Call 813-974-2323.

LysistrataShimberg Playhouse

Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center

1010 N. MacInnes Place

Tampa

813-229-STAR

Through June 17

8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday

4 p.m. Sunday

$15.50-$21.50

2.5

Let's Play TwoSilver Meteor Gallery

2213 E. Sixth Ave.

Ybor City

813-765-1486

Through June 16

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

$10

1.5

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