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"The Man Who Would Be King" is a lesson in the perils of colonialism

g and compass

Anchorage Daily News

'King' delivers a wild ride with modern-day message

AQUILA: Repertory theater groups does fine job with Kipling classic.

Daily News theater reviewer

(Published: March 8, 2004)

New York-based Aquila Theatre Company's fine production of "The Man Who Would Be King" is a lesson in the perils of colonialism, right out of today's headlines.

Based on Rudyard Kipling's 1888 short story of the same name, "The Man Who Would Be King" played two Saturday performances on the Discovery stage at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.

The charming script -- adapted by Aquila's Peter Meineck and directed by Robert Richmond -- is like a fairy tale for grown-ups, whisking the audience along on a wild adventure of a Scotsman and a Cockney in the nether regions north of India. The two ex-British Army sergeants intend to take over the fictional kingdom of Kafiristan and crown themselves kings.

The adventurers, who happen to be Freemasons, escape earthshaking avalanches and the hazards of the Khyber Pass and amazingly find a tribe familiar with Freemasonry, its secret handshakes and passwords.

Fantastic and comical, the pointed satire on British colonialism carries a strong underlying message. You know it's not going to turn out well when a character declares: "The people of these parts are in need of a civilizing influence."

Predictably, all ends poorly for Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnehan, delightfully portrayed by Anthony Cochrane and Richard Willis, respectively. But it's a heck of a ride, for them and for us.

Meineck's script is burdened with exposition in the first hourlong act, a common problem in adapting literature for the stage. But the thrilling second act, packed with dramatic action, more than makes the earlier talky scenes worthwhile.

As befits a touring company, the set is simple, portable and effective. Brightly colored silky fabric festoons the playing area, with only a few moveable stage blocks and a desk where The Reporter (Kipling, as narrator) is seated. Meineck's lighting design works magic, producing a kind of cinematic escapism.

The Aquila company, which also produced "Othello" last week, is a true ensemble repertory troupe. Lloyd Notice, who played Othello, in "The Man Who Would Be King" is The Stranger, a small but important role. Likewise, Kathryn Merry, who was Desdemona a few days earlier, is a tribeswoman with no real dialogue in "King.'' Also notable as tribal chief Billy Fish is Jay Leibowitz, who played Roderigo in "Othello."

If you missed either of Aquila's productions this time around, cross your fingers that the Anchorage Concert Association brings them back next season.

Catherine Stadem is a Fellow of the National Critics Institute and a member of the American Theatre Critics Association

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