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Aquila Theatre Company brings the classics to Saint Mary’s

Jordan Gamble | Sunday, October 5, 2008

With pared-down staging and classic material, the Aquila Theatre Company will take the stage in O’Laughlin Auditorium Monday with William Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” and Tuesday with Homer’s “The Iliad.”

Both shows throw a modern twist into the classic tales. “Comedy of Errors,” which Shakespeare set in Turkey, updates its look to the 20th century, with costumes straight out of “Casablanca.”

The set and costume design for “The Iliad” was inspired by the cover art of recent edition of the Homer masterpiece, said the website for the company’s touring representation, Baylin Artists Management. Stanley Lombrado’s 1998 translation, which was the basis for the play’s script, featured a photo from D-Day, and Aquila took that as inspiration for the World War II look of the actors’ army uniforms and the play’s props and settings.

Despite these artistic slants, the shows still retain the company’s mission of theatrical utilitarianism. Actors play several roles in both shows and props and settings are sparse. This style allows the message and drama from the legendary authors of each performed text to shine all the more clearly.

“With precision and unity of ensemble, Aquila articulates the human essence inherent in classical drama,” says the website for Baylin Artists Management.

The New York City-based troupe tours every year, visiting 60 to 70 cities with the aim of bringing classical theatre to the masses. This year, their national touring schedule includes many performances at college campuses like Saint Mary’s College.

Aquila also puts on a full season of shows in New York City, but a large amount of the company’s output is educational.

Besides being the Professional Company in Residence at New York University’s Center for Ancient Studies, Aquila hosts numerous theatre workshops and performs for schools in inner city and rural areas that might not often see regular professional shows.

One of Aquila’s education programs, Shakespeare Leaders, takes students from schools in Harlem and the Bronx and teaches them the technique and discipline of acting and staging a play. The students then perform the full show for their local community and a New York City theater.

The theatre company was founded in London in 1991 by Peter Meineck and moved to New York City in 1999. In the last 17 years, the company of American and British actors have put on over 60 different plays in their United States tours, New York City and London stages, and at international and Shakespeare theatre festivals in Greece and Los Angeles.

If Aquila’s record of past shows is anything to go by, the staples of classic theatre only continue to take in audiences. The company explains that each incarnation of a show allows for new expression and creativity despite the material’s age.

“The technique is aimed to create an aesthetic environment where the performer can create and recreate a role in a consistently changing theatrical atmosphere,” Aquila’s website said.

Aquila has produced “The Iliad” and “Comedy of Errors” before, in national tours and off-Broadway productions from 1998 to 2000. The enduring themes of war and sacrifice from “The Iliad,” and the still sidesplitting mistaken-identity gags from “The Comedy of Errors,” keep them perennial favorites.