Mining for ‘or’
Or, is an unusual and fascinating play, both in story and in style. This tale of the first professional female playwright, Aphra Behn, is highly stylized, an old-fashioned romp with modern-day sensibilities. Playwright Liz Duffy Adams cleverly melds the ’60s (that’s the 1660s and the 1960s) to come up with a classic farce full of counterculture references including free love, gender-bending and a woman’s view in a man’s world.
It’s also a fitting bon voyage production for Capital Stage as it debarks the Delta King, its home for its last six seasons. The troupe is sailing off to its new theater location in the heart of Midtown (2215 J Street), and will open its next season on dry land. It’ll be hauling its “bold, thought-provoking plays by the region’s top talent” with it as it embarks to state-of-the-art quarters, sure to be technically superior, but just as surely not as fun and funky as the Delta King.
Having a cutting-edge theater on a paddle-wheel steamboat from the ’20s was always an endearing dichotomy, which is what Or, (the title includes the comma) is all about: dichotomies. As Stephanie Gularte, who plays Aphra, explains in her prologue, Or, details the “dense array of seeming opposites—spy or poetess, actress or whore, male or female, straight or gay, wrong or righteous, treacherous or true, lust or love.” That’s a lot of “ors” to be mined, and Capital Stage does so with its usual stellar job of blending quirky, captivating scripts with top-notch talent and great staging.
In Or,, playwright Adams takes some of the known facts of this little-known female playwright, the king of the moment (Charles II) and a renowned actress of the day, Nell Gwyn, and cross-dresses them with a rollicking tale of spying, writing, sex, ribaldry and debauchery. She weaves this all under the guise of a traditional farce, complete with slamming doors, entrances and exits (well … one door, one curtain and one armoire), characters running amok, sexual high jinks and near-miss calamities.
Throughout, Adams proves she’s a lover of language (by layering classic Restoration English with modern ’60s lingo) as well as a lover of history (by giving us a peek into the theater world, royal world and the world of women in the 1660s).
This is a three-person, seven-character play, with Gularte effortlessly embodying Aphra; Jonathan Rhys Williams skillfully bouncing between the king and his countryman, William Scott; and talented, animated newcomer Jessica Bates buzzing in and out as England’s first leading lady of the stage, theater manager Lady Davenant and a sundry other characters.
Director Peter Mohrmann is a master at keeping everything flowing with nonstop action, ricocheting dialogue and an ever-changing cast of characters. And, as in its production of Dangerous Liaisons, Capital Stage provides a bounty of gorgeous period costumes and music, a clever set, and seamless lighting and sound.
Or, is Capital Stage’s fine farewell to the Delta King—all hail the King—and a fitting prelude to its new digs on J Street come October.