The best thing that ever happened to Aquila was having its work condemned by the president of Bob Jones U. as “perverted and corrupted” and “not acceptable fare for Christian people.” Tickled pink with that back-handed rave, the company has responded with an excruciatingly unfunny burlesque show based on “The Wasps” that it’s trying to foist off as “politically offensive, lewd, rude and very naughty.” There’s even a program note advising auds that, because of the show’s “sexually explicit terms and strong language,” it might not be suitable for anyone under 16. As if anyone under 16 would be caught dead at this yawner.
Aristophanes’ political comedy is actually quite funny, with its heated father-son arguments about moral values in a democratic state rife with corruption and its barbed criticisms of the moribund Athenian judicial system. But Aquila has lifted only the broad plot outline and none of Aristophanes’ wit or righteous anger.
In this bare treatment, the civic-minded father (Robert Richmond) has been duped by a demagogic politician (Alex Webb), and the son (Richard Willis) uses cheap materialist enticements to lure him away from his obsessive courtroom attendance.
Show unfolds as a series of old burlesque routines — complete with silly wigs and rubber chickens — but lacks an inspired comic sensibility to deliver the kick-in-the-pants humor that burlesque both celebrates and demands.
The best the company can come up with is a tired audience-participation format that has thesps hauling embarrassed-looking students out of the aud and engaging them in corny, old-folks-at-home routines involving those aforementioned silly wigs and rubber chickens.
At times, the material is so bad it actually is funny. To wit, an ancient woman-hating joke about how a husband can tell that his wife has died: “The sex is the same, but the dishes keep piling up.” But the company style is so short on the skills of comic delivery that even the good bad stuff falls flat. Even sing-along songs involving rubber sex toys and extolling “sexual depravity” and “abhorrent physical perversion” are a crashing bore.
In show’s desperate finale, the entire aud is urged to participate in a group “Crab Dance” that might look vaguely smutty if you squint your eyes. Anyone who resists is advised: “Don’t be shy now/It’s only a play/The cops are coming soon now/To take us away.” They wish.