Thursday, November 12, 2009

Or,

Liz Duffy Adams's newest play is called Or,, which makes it pretty clear that her historical farce has no intentions of wasting time with ifs, ands, or buts. (Well, perhaps a few butts.) The title--of which the comma is a part--is meant to shed some light on our innate dualities, and to that end, Aphra Behn--a bisexual spy-turned-playwright who may or may not have faked her widowhood in order to gain personal freedom--is an apt choice. Likewise, it's a smart choice to cast Maggie Siff in the role, a versatile actor (from Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy) with the ability to play a stern woman in a fluttery way, or a flustered girl in a confident fashion. Above all, Adams's best choice is to reduce the cast to three actors, using the already comic art of double-casting and quick changes to enhance the farcical elements.

Though Adams is intent on illustrating the ambiguity of character, Wendy McClellan directs with a crisp, clean hand. Even the intentionally sloppy bits, where characters are peeking only parts of their body out of the various rooms and closets in which they've hidden, are done with precision. And rightly so: the play Behn is attempting to finish is the one that she's actually in, and it would be impossible to crack as many jokes at the play's structure if it were not so impeccably upheld.

To that end, Behn has no lack of material. She begins in debtor's prison, where she churns out verse and practices her rhymes on the gaoler; when a mysterious masked man shows up to free her, she finds plenty of opportunity to sharpen her wit, too. Some months later, with the masked man revealed as King Charles II (Andy Paris), she is well on the way to being a playwright--if only she had something to submit. Luckily, her new lover, the actress Nell Gwynne (Kelly Hutchinson) comes to the rescue, for Behn's attempts to write her play, overcome her passions, and keep Gwynne from meeting Charles practically write themselves. (O for a muse of fire, indeed.)

Over the course of the lively and non-stop hour that follow this ball-in-motion prologue, we'll also meet William, a former spy and lover; Mariah, the cracking good maid (as in, she'll crack you over the head); and Lady Davening, a supporter of plays, though it often seems as though the cast is several times larger. Paris and Hutchinson, who play all these roles, are exceedingly game, so much so that the biggest laugh of the night comes from Davening's hyperactive advice that one should "never leave actors with nothing to do." (The result is either a stage manager's dream or nightmare.)

Adams might have gone a bit further--as is, the historical double-meanings are lost, especially among people unfamiliar with Behn. However, there's nothing wrong with a blatant farce, and once can't fault Adams for sticking to her game plan: "Compose yourselves for pleasure," announces Hutchinson at the start of the show. That's perhaps the one thing in Or, that has no alternative.

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