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Theater Review: The Comedy of Errors and The Odyssey

By Bence Olveczky
Staff Reporter

The Comedy of Errors

Emerson Majestic Theatre

219 Tremont Street, Boston

Tickets $17.50-$37.50, 824-8000

Tonight at 7.30 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 p.m. and 7.30 p.m.

In this age of high-tech, fast-paced, action packed entertainment (read: the MTV era), classical plays are often considered irrelevant, boring, and out-of-touch. It is therefore a delightful surprise when a theater company manages to invigorate these old but timeless masterpieces with freshness and relevance.

The Aquila Theatre from London has pursued this noble ambition to impressive critical acclaim since their foundation in 1990. They are now in Boston for the first time, performing Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors and Homer's epic The Odyssey at the Majestic Theatre.

Being a traveling theater company, Aquila uses few props, making the most out of what they have. A couple of pastel-colored tents are transformed into visually stunning images reminiscent of exotic villages, while wooden sticks in different constellations are used to illustrate ships, forests, and even battlefields. It is the innocent theater goer's imagination that is called upon to piece it all together.

It may not be an easy production to watch, but if you cooperate and let yourself and your imagination be guided by the Aquila Theatre's inspired cast, chances are you will be rewarded for your efforts.

Unlike many modern theater companies, the Aquila treads carefully, staying true to the text and the original intentions of the authors, so don't expect any Viagra jokes here.

In The Comedy of Errors the stage is transformed into a colorful bazaar-like setting. It is here that Shakespeare's classic comedy about mistaken identities, assumed personas and whimsical family relationships is played out. Two pairs of identical twins, separated from their respective brothers by a shipwreck, spend most of their time searching in vain for each other. When they coincidentally meet in the ancient city of Ephesus, comic situations abound.

In The Odyssey, comic elements are swapped for high drama as we follow Odysseus on his way back to Ithaca and his beloved wife Penelope after 10 years in the Trojan war. On his homeward journey the Great Warrior is put through a series of proving tests that delay him from his family reunion.

If you are a graduate student, this production hits close to home, as you find yourself equating Odysseus' struggles with your own. Not unlike Odysseus, many of us are struggling to finish off our task and go back to a peaceful and quiet life with wife, kids, and picket fence. But here, as in ancient Greece, the Gods conspire and the unfortunate ones are left to fight an existential battle, where the next set back is never far away.

All is well that ends well, and it is inspiring to see Odysseus, after 10 years of hardship, finally reach Ithaca and Penelope's warm embrace.

The only slight problem with Aquila's productions is their incoherence. Both nights are full of excellent theatrical solutions, but sometimes these clever tricks seem to impede the natural flow of the play rather than help it. It is as if the director Robert Richmond and the actors have far too many ideas and can't agree on which ones to leave out, making the staging resemble a college production, with plenty of enthusiasm and funny solutions but little restraint.

It is easy to forgive them. The actors, skilled in both dramatic acting and modern dance, deserve praise for their inspired and highly professional performances, especially Peter Hilton, who stars as both Odysseus and as the Antipholus twins in The Comedy of Errors.

When you read this, the Aquila Theatre from London will be wrapping up and moving on. But if what you read sounds like your cup-of-tea, you can still catch The Comedy of Errors tonight at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.