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Friday, July 22, 2005


Twelfth Night
presented by the Aquila Theatre Company

Those familiar with that idiosyncratic Brit-expat classical company, Aquila, know to expect both impeccably well spoken text and juvenile physical hijinx. It's an odd marriage, their aesthetic. Even an occasional fan like myself must admit the relentless in-your-face energy of their performances can often be... well, annoying. Maybe it's a result of developing their productions through extensive school tours across the country (for which they've received a huge NEA grant); Aquila provides surely the most literate kid shows around. But by the time their productions settle for a more professional run in New York for the summer, it's hard not to feel some of their strained gags and crude visual aids are better suited the cultural level of a high school gymnasium. (Hence no surprise they were a hit at the White House this spring.)

Aquila's new installment, Twelfth Night, surprisingly disappointed me for not being annoying enough, though. After they gave even Othello a circus treatment last year (complete with audience participation and an inexplicable soccer-hooligan musical interlude), this ribald comedy seems tame in comparison. Has Aquila mellowed? Only the company clown, rubber-faced Luis Butelli, as Feste, conjures the usual silliness. (And I must say he's one of the least annoying Festes I've seen!) Conceptually, the production even hints at being structured around his character, with Feste as omnipresent puppetmaster and helping hand. Promising idea. Some of the more somber proceedings aim at touching the play's melancholy --but, of course, Aquila can't go there for long before trouncing out the usual pop-techno synth score of resident actor/composer Anthony Cochrane (doubling as Sir Toby Belch) to which actors constantly bounce around to between scenes. As Aquila regulars, Butelli, Cochrane, and Lisa Carter (as Olivia) are always a pleasure to watch and listen to (though Carter and Cochrane seemed a bit on auto-pilot Thursday night); but, as usual, the ensemble sags with the casting of less accomplished apprentices in key roles--such as, oh, Viola. (Lindsay Taylor is perfectly ok, and even shows some poetic gift--but she just doesn't have the inner size to carry the play.)

Normally, Aquila directors Robert Richmond and Peter Meineck can at least be counted on for some badboy, rollicking, irreverent fun. When they're at their best--their Comedy of Errors, for example--they really make you feel like one of the "lads." But by playing Twelfth Night straight, they only reveal an impatience to deal with what's left of the more subtle emotional layers of this less slapsticky play.

Other reviews: NY Times; V. Voice

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