Historically, Aphra Behn was the first major female playwright of the English stage. Her work was written and performed during the Restoration (of the crown and of the theaters which were all closed by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans) but, alas, not today. She lies buried in Westminster Abbey with all the male literati (whose work is read and remembered but that’s a discussion for another day and another article).
Liz Duffy Adams’ tribute to Behn and the political intrigue afoot in the 1660s is provocatively called Or, (playing in a smart production at the Lyric Stage through Nov.6th). “Power needs poets and poets need money,” Adams quips but her historical comedy is best when it approaches farce. Adams has the eager playwright trying to finish a script while being besieged by interruptions. At one point she finds herself with an ex sequestered in a cupboard, a lover waiting in the next room, the King relegated to her bed chamber and a servant eavesdropping at the door.
One actress (the lovely Stacy Fischer) portrays Behn but two actors perform all the other characters – and sometimes simultaneously! Ro’ee Levi plays both King Charles and his Scottish rival who enter and exit so quickly you think you will see them side by side. (Shakespeare was famous for his “bed tricks” but the Lyric pulls off a nifty closet trick!) Theatrical heaven for farce lovers.
Hannah Husband portrays the canny actress Nell Gwynne (historically one of King Charles’ mistresses) as well as Behn’s loyal maid and an imperious theatrical producer (the actual Lady Davenant who inherited her husband’s theater company). Adams composed a hilarious, never ending soliloquy for Lady Davenant which Husband delivers triumphantly.
Director Daniel Gidron and company wring all the delightful humor they can from Adams’ script. It’s absolutely charming when the actors break out in rhyming couplets or barrel back on stage after a lightening fast quick change. Plotting and planning and getting caught is delicious fun BUT Or, just doesn’t have enough of it for me.