'Aquitania' Works Wonders
Logic makes way for the fable's visuals and music.
work of haunting visual beauty and mythological resonance,
"Aquitania" at the Gascon Center Theatre continues
author-director Stephen Legawiec’s inventive synthesis
of stage, dance, and song in a whimsical fable that plays
off the archetypal heroic quest.
With stylistic and thematic nods to such eclectic sources
of inspiration as Lewis Carroll and the surrealist painter
Rene Magritte, this new production from Legawiec’s
Ziggurat Theatre Company transforms the Gascon Center
Theatre into a playground of the unconscious. An arcing
backdrop painted like Magritte's cloud-dappled, bright
blue skies, game-board floor tiling on which the characters
can move as pieces, and incidental antique furnishings
set the stage for exploring, as one character puts it,
"the secret part of life that can't be explained."
That mission should be taken to heart--let the music and
visuals work their magic without undue analysis. You'll
miss the point if you try to parse a logical plot out
of the exploits of the reluctant heroine, punfully-named
Marguerite (Kiersten Van Horne), a librarian transported--"Alice"-like--back
in time to the 9th century reign of Charlemagne. There,
she must free the imaginary kingdom of Aquitania from
the delightfully evil despot, Gano (Frederick Stone, whimsically
costumed as one of Magritte's bland, bowler-hatted businessmen).
Magic spells, mystic rituals and plot reversals abound
as Marguerite and her allies (Dean Purvis, Sharon McMahon,
Colleen Kane) attempt to save the day. Naila Azad plays
the disruptive witch, abetted by a trio of copper-haired
chanteuses. A subplot involving a little girl (Britney
Anne Tuba, Morgan Luci) and her tutor (Michael Klock)
frames the action as a game, complete with one of those
"undo" maneuvers we all wish we had in real
PHILIP BRANDES, Special to The Times
-- the latest 100-minute mythic creation by visionary
Stephen Legawiec -- is playful, thoughtful and inspired.
other artistic directors struggle with their theatrical
seasons, Legawiec and his Ziggurat Theatre are content
to create performances inspired by world myths.
these myths, Legawiec asserts, we can share a common identity
-- especially in our culturally diverse City of Angels,
where we sorely lack a collective past or identity. And
as myths cross cultural boundaries and defy rational explanations,
the Ziggurat ensemble has created an onstage ritual art
form that combines text, singing, music, dance and spectacle.
as told by writer-director Legawiec and the talented Ziggurat
group, is a blend of things deft and daft.
first we see a young girl (the appealing Britney Anne
Tuba) at an oversized chess set. While she ponders her
moves, she is in-structed by the wise Malagigi (the capable
Michael Klock), who tells her the story of the mythic
mountain kingdom of Aquitania.
we are transported by three Aquitanians (Mary Kate Karr,
Lauren Clark and Helle Schoubye), a Greek chorus singing
French ballads. Aquitania is at war. While King Charles
(Charlemagne) goes off to fight the renegades, the wise,
resourceful king has sent for Marguerite, who was a child
in Aquitania, to help win back the mountain.
there are problems. Marguerite (the capable Kiersten Van
Horne) is now a librarian, a bookworm without much of
an imagination. The message of "Aquitania" is
that we must learn to nourish our imaginations because
that's the source from which myths spring.
Marguerite goes on her spiritual, imaginative journey
to save the kingdom. She encounters the gentle Roland
(Dean Purvis), the spacey Fleurdelis (Jenny Woo), the
sturdy Bradamente (Sharon McMahon), the crafty witch Ilaska
(Naila Azad), the outrageous fisher's apprentice Fobliar
(Colleen Kane) and the evil Gano (Frederick Stone). All
latest bit of ultrastylized surrealism from writer-director
Stephen Legawiec’s Ziggurat Theater Company, Aquitania
is nothing less than a feast of dance, music, classic
storytelling and visual bravura that will dazzle —
whether or not its kaleidoscope of mytho-poetic references
holds meaning for you. A reluctant heroine, Marguerite
(Kiersten Van Horne), must save mythic Aquitania —
mismanaged by the feckless Roland (Dean Purvis) and his
ditzy love interest, Fleurdelis (Jenny Woo) — from
the villainous Gano (Fredric Stone), who, in turn, presses
into his cause a daffy 500-year-old recluse (the marvelous
Naila Azad) and gnomelike Fobliar (Colleen Kane). The
ensuing battle between good and evil is actually Marguerite’s
voyage of self-discovery. But Susan Chris tiansen’s
hypnotic music score, brought to life by the warbling
voices of Mary Kate Karr (music director), Helle Schoubye
and Lauren Clark (all in matching salmon dresses by Robert
Velasquez) singing entirely en Français, as well
as the cast’s tightly choreographed moves, combine
to make this densely laden narrative a sensorial cornucopia.
Meanwhile, Aquitania slips in the age-old conundrum of
science versus religion, excavating the truths that lie
beneath the surface of all the great myths. Gascon Center
Theater, 8737 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Fri.-Sat.,
8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 17. (310) 495-0252.
colleague, Dany Margolies, suggested I go see Ziggurat
Theatre Company's production of Aquitania at Gascon Center
Theatre. So I did, with high expectations. Still, I was
unprepared for the shimmering beauty, resonance, ensemble
integrity, and overall impact of this unusual theatrical
experience. Jan Kott, theatre critic, teacher, author
of The Theatre of Essence, once told me he finds American
theatre too commercial, its non-commercial theatre too
amateurish, and "both in need of a little bit of
ritual." Kott, formerly of Poland, now of Santa Monica,
should see Aquitania. He'll find the ritual he seeks,
no whiff of commercialism, and no amateurs, unless you
define amateur as lover of the art.
was my introduction to this remarkable Ziggurat Theatre
Company, which somehow (I'm ashamed to admit) had escaped
my notice. Theatres hereabouts have grown exponentially
since 1980. There are several exciting new ones. That
name is intriguing right off. Have you noticed that words
beginning with "z," or have a few "z's"
in them, are special? I have. That name, "Ziggurat,"
sent me to both dictionary and encyclopedia, to learn
that a ziggurat is a temple tower in the form of a terraced
pyramid, with a shrine on top, attributed variously to
Babylonians, Assyrians, and/or Mesopotamians, maybe all
three. This is very interesting but doesn't tell you all
you want to know. An aura of the arcane hovers.
deepens. We learn that this group, founded in 1996 by
Stephan Legawiec, originally called itself Gilgamesh.
Another enigma. Let us know more about Gilgamesh! I take
it he was some kind of ancient VIP or emperor, but so
far I haven't found much on him. It's Stephan Legawiec,
himself, who is really intriguing, the one who thought
up these names, created this company, helmed it through
various permutations, and, believe me, is some kind of
theatrical virtuoso. This young man does everything, and
well. He wrote Aquitania, directed it, designed its set,
and obviously is this group's inspiration. An actor, as
well, he has appeared in previous company productions:
Ninshaba, at Glaxa Studios; Hammergirl, also at Glaxa;
The Medicine Show, in site-specific Coldwater Canyon Park,
and Chomolungma (The Mountain) at Gascon Center.
notes say Legawiec (Le GAHV yetz) is the son of composer/violinist
Walter Legawiec, has a B.F.A. in design and illustration
from Washington University in St. Louis, did post-graduate
work in theatre at Cornell and Rutgers universities, and
studied at the American Mime Theatre. I'm guessing, but
that name suggests Polish ethnic heritage. Since knowing
the towering, princely, one-of-a-kind (unfortunately,
late) Leonidas Dudarew Ossetynski, I have been most favorably
impressed by Polish heritage, especially regarding theatre.
want to know more about this pure, dedicated, myth-and-ritual-oriented
theatre company Ziggurat that creates such hauntingly