Fantastical comedy 'Aquitania' tells the tale of a land between the mountains and the sea in Camden

Jul. 28—Aquitania sits between the mountains and the sea. It is a peaceful, happy kingdom until a power-mad man in a bowler hat wages war against its king.

A stash of weapons in a mountain hideaway may be Aquitania's only hope for survival, but the secret to unlocking its door has been lost. To discover its key, the king sends for Marguerite, a woman whose skills seem unfit for the task because she is just a librarian.

Or, perhaps the residents of Aquitania are merely pawns in a chess-like game Marguerite is playing.

For the second year in a row, the Camden Shakespeare Festival has produced a one-act play not penned by The Bard due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"Aquitania" is a fantastical comedy written and directed by the festival's artistic director, Stephen Legawiec. It is co-produced by the Ziggurat Theatre ensemble, which first performed the play in 2001 in California. The company first produced the play in Maine in 2012.

This year, "Aquitania" is being performed through Aug. 8 at the Camden Public Library amphitheater and Aug. 11-14 at Liberty Park in Bath. The show was performed Saturday in Monson on the lawn of the arts center and co-produced by the Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft.

Legawiec said before Saturday's performance that the decision to forego Shakespeare was made because every play includes "either kissing or sword fighting" that made social distancing nearly impossible. Last year, Legawiec launched the delightful "FAFALO!" in the Commedia dell'arte style, but due to gathering limits audience numbers were limited to 50 per show.

There are no outdoor gathering limits this year so "Aquitania" should draw good-sized crowds. More than 100 people came to see it in Monson.

This truly is an ensemble piece where no one actor outshines another, although Kieran Danaan as Roland and Emily Grotz as Fleurdelis get most of the laughs for their outstanding physical moves. They are a perfect duo.

Sarah Durn as Marguerite is a lovely ingenue. Her understated and natural performance is a nice counterpoint to Danaan and Grotz's broader and more physical performances. Durn also delivers the librarian jokes with a straight face that makes them all the more meaningful, especially for the librarians in the audience.

Lily Hoskins, a midcoast middle schooler, holds her own with professionals. Her scenes with Whip Hubley as Malagigi, a man old enough to be her grandfather, are lovingly warm and realistic.

Every one of the costumes, designed by Robert Velasquez and Anne Collins, perfectly define each character.

Before each actor speaks, theatergoers know who they are by what they are wearing. That bowler hat and long, heavy coat cover up most of Gano, but they also signal just how much evil he is trying to hide.

Shakespeare fans may be disappointed the Bard is absent from Camden again this year, but "Aquitania" is a nice change of pace suited for families who may find "Macbeth" too bloody and the manipulation of lovers in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" too bawdy for children under the age of 12.

"Aquitania" is a charming production no matter where it is performed, but there is something magical about the Camden amphitheater that makes it especially well suited for a play about a kingdom between the mountains and the sea.

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