Aquila Theatre Company, the cross-cultural theatre troupe that mixes British and American actors and puts physical, quirky spins on classics, revives its popular 1998 staging of Comedy of Errors for an Off-Broadway summer run, opening July 11 at the East 13th Street Theatre.
Following its popular six-month run of the James Bond-era Much Ado About Nothing in 2001, Aquila revisits its version of Comedy of Errors, which played 60 cities around the U.S. (in rep with The Iliad) but only got a handful of performances in a New York University building in Manhattan four years ago. Adding new costumes and a couple of new cast members, Aquila artistic director Peter Meineck decided to give the rollicking work a proper staging in a proper theatre (the summer venue is the home of the Classic Stage Company).
Aquila reinvents the classic Shakespeare Comedy of Errors, about twins, mistaken identity and romance, by setting it as a "1920 Turkish cartoon dream" as if the audience has walked into a Casbah as imagined by Belgian cartoon artist Herge, Meineck told Playbill On-Line. The print ad campaign is in the style of newspaper adventure-series cartoon strips of yesteryear.
Aquila productions are known for playing fast and loose with text, setting and concept. The twist of the Aquila version of Comedy of Errors is that the famed twins of the script — the two Dromios and two Antipholuses — will be played by one actor each. (The Playbill bios suggest otherwise.) Some reviewers in the past actually thought the roles were played by four actors, Meineck said. How director-adaptor Robert Richmond deals with the reunions and reconciliations at the end of the play is a secret.
Is there a precedent for one actor play each of the twins?
"I don't think anyone else has been foolish enough to try it," Meineck said. The result of the casting concept, he said, is that you think more deeply about identity and other issues of the play.
The cast of Aquila actors includes Lisa Carter as Adriana (last seen as Beatrice in Aquila's Much Ado), Louis Butelli as Dromio (last seen as Don John, Dogberry and Friar Francis in Much Ado), Alex Webb as Egeon, Pinch and Balthasar (last seen as Leonato Much Ado), Mira Kingsley as Luciana (last seen as Calpurnia in Aquila's Julius Caesar), Mark Saturno as Antipholus (last seen on tour as Trinculo and Sebastian in Aquila's Tempest), Mark Cameron-Pow as The Duke and Angelo (last seen on tour as Stephano and Gonzalo in Tempest) and one actress to be added.
The original musical score is by Anthony Cochrane, who composed music for Much Ado (and played Benedick). The production will include Aquila's signature physical opening sequence. In Much Ado, the sequence was a stylized 1960s spy-games battle that suggested the war from which Benedick and Claudio emerge.
Comedy of Errors previews began June 26. Performances continue to Sept. 1 at the East 13th Street Theatre (136 E. 13th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues).
The Aquila Theatre Company has presented six classical plays Off Broadway in New York since 1999. Meineck and Richmond serve as production designers on Comedy of Errors.
Performances will play 8 PM Tuesday-Friday, 5 & 9 PM Saturday, 3 & 7 PM Sunday. Tickets are $45. For reservations and information call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or visit aquilatheatre.com.
To view Playbill On-Line's August 2001 Brief Encounter interview with Peter Meineck, click here.
Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors (Aquila has cut "the" from the title) is thought to have premiered in 1594 and was inspired by the ancient Roman work of Plautus.
— By Kenneth Jones