Do you like plays about gladiators, Bobby?

Women At Arms Festival: Camilla

Adapted by Peter Hilton from Virgil's Aeneid
Directed by Peter Hilton
The Lady Cavaliers
Theatre for the New City
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Charles Battersby

The Lady Cavaliers are a theatre company dedicated to promoting "a stronger female image ... through the art of stage combat." Their show Camilla might take audiences by surprise, since it contained neither combat nor women ... just some guy in a dress. Actually that "dress" was a Roman tunic, and that guy was Peter Hilton, who not only starred in the one-man show, but also adapted Camilla from books 7 and 11 of Virgil's epic poem, The Aeneid. Hilton also translated the poem from the Latin and directed himself in the show.

The Aeneid is the story of the founding of Rome by Aeneas and the Trojans after the Trojan war. Camilla is a minor character in this epic, but Hilton has deftly edited the material so that she comes across as the star. Camilla is a warrior woman who fights against the Trojans as they invade Italy, which technically makes her a bad guy; however, Hilton (with some help from Virgil) portrays her as a tragic hero.

The tale is told in a narrative style with Hilton alone on stage, occasionally taking on the personae of various characters in the rare instances when Virgil uses dialog. Percussionist P.J. Merola used music to simulate the battles and mystical sound effects when the gods work their magic. Merola's work was so skillful that it was almost like having a second performer right on stage.

It takes a great amount of presence for one actor to hold a stage for an hour all by himself ,and Hilton did indeed have that presence. At times he was thunderously intense and at other times became charmingly inviting and soft spoken.

Adding a bit to Hilton's charm was his terrific costume. Hilton looked authentically Roman in his soldier's tunic covered in chain mail, with a gladius sword hanging from his belt. At times he donned a helmet or strapped on a shield, thereby blurring the line between set, props, and costumes. When not worn or held, various armor and weapons were strewn about the set, including a pilum (Roman javelin) which was integral to the narrative and the origins of Camilla. The set consisted of a few key pieces simulating a battlefield campsite: a pile of kindling, a stump used for a table, and the log on which Hilton sat for much of the show. All of this helped provide the feeling that the audience was just gathered around a second-century Roman campfire listening to a soldier tell the tale of a warrior maiden.

Of course persons who are not already familiar with Greek and Roman history and literature would have trouble following the narrative, which consists of part of the 11th chapter in a twelve-part saga. Folks who learned everything they know about Roman mythology from Xena will be hopelessly lost. But for those who have actually read Virgil this is a rare opportunity to see his work in a theatrical setting.

"Arms and the woman I sing...."

  Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby