A Very Naughty Greek Play (Utopia Parkway)
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 6, 2005
See Aquila Theatre Company's A Very Naughty Greek Play and stand up and be counted.
Or at least, stand up and get squirted with a water pistol. AVNGP is an attempt to bring the spirit of classical Greek comedy to the present day. To that end, the Aquilans have morphed The Wasps of Aristophanes into a very broad, very witty blend of British Music Hall, Marx Brothers anarchy, and well-oiled social/political satire, complete with lots of vulgar sexual double entendres, silly costumes, and naked rubber dolls. Their objectives are two in number: (1) to give the audience a fine old time, one that literally gets them out of their seats and on their feet, clapping and dancing along with the cast in a loopy Dionysian reverie (as Dionysian, anyway, as a modern buttoned-up American theatre audience can manage); and (2) to poke pointed fun at current affairs, to literally get a rise out of a complacent audience that has gotten too droopily accustomed to passivity in their culture and in their politics. Either way, they want you up on your toes, taking part. A Very Naughty Greek Play is a wakeup call that theatre can be fun, that participation is essential, and that dissent can be cathartically joyous.
In it, for example, a dog (played by a hand puppet) is put on trial for deviant sexual behavior:
JUDGE: What have you got to say for yourself?
JUDGE: How do you like to have sex?
DOG: Ruff. Ruff.
The prosecuting attorney is a giant chimpanzee who sounds very much like our current Chief Executive.
Elsewhere in the play, unsuspecting audience members are brought onto the stage to participate in a game show in which they are accused of ridiculous crimes and then awarded even sillier punishments with the spin of giant wheel. (One of the booby prizes is being made to serve as Brad Pitt's slippers; another is to extract ear wax from Donald Trump's ear.) Still elsewhere, there's a mostly mimed sequence in which a provincial rube crashes a posh arts benefit and winds up getting drunk on the wine and turning the event into a circus. And still elsewhere, the entire ensemble launches into a synchronized swimming number (sans water) in which they are variously pursued by a giant killer shark (portrayed by a big vinyl balloon).
There is a plot at the center of this gleeful nonsense. Kokkos, an aging conservative judge, has been locked inside his house by his son, Huakinthos, and his slave, Xanthias, because they think he has become too incompetent and corrupt to inflict on the world. Abetted by the Chorus, Kokkos escapes; but Huakinthos catches up with him and engages in a series of mock trials in which he helps Kokkos realize that he is not the free Athenian he thinks he us, but rather an unwitting pawn of the rich and powerful oligarchs who have taken control of the land and perverted its democratic traditions.
The Chorus races about, changing costumes and acquiring props with alarming rapidity. He's the one armed with the water pistol (actually a water assault rifle): he threatens us with it if we fail to properly acknowledge the leader of Athens, Thamnos (Greek for "small leafy shrub") by pounding our chests and calling out his name each time he is mentioned.
The Aquilans are bent on having serious fun here, but they're also committed to making some serious points. There's more food for thought in about half a dozen monologues peppered throughout AVNGP than in the average national newspaper's op-ed section. There's a musical number in which Kokkos sings the praises of big chain department stores (think Wal-Mart) because he can buy bullets for his gun there. And there's a sequence featuring a Southern-accented preacher who relates a parable about a big scary pachyderm and its accomplice, a 100-headed serpent. Come to this show to laugh, but don't tune out the commentary.
I loved it—for being such a splendid hoot, and for being so smart. It almost feels subversive—though the final song of the evening contains a lyric reminding us that we actually won't get arrested for being here. It also feels enormously necessary.
Bravo to the four men who are responsible for this glorious shot in our democratic arm. They are: Anthony Cochrane, who wrote the music and takes the role of the slave Xanthias; Robert Richmond, who plays Kokkos; Richard Willis (Huakinthos); and Alex Webb, invaluable as the Chorus. This unstoppable quartet project antic energy and display astonishing versatility—they clown, they recite, they sing, they dance, they even each play a musical instrument. Behind the scenes are translator and co-creator Peter Meineck, who is producing artistic director of Aquila; and company members Lisa Carter and Desiree Sanchez who are billed as co-conceiver/creators.
Alas, A Very Naughty Greek Play isn't going to be in New York for very long. So I urge you to hurry to Baruch Performing Arts Center pronto, and let these playful folks from Aquila give you the poke in the ribs and kick in the pants that you deserve.