BWW Review: No Ifs and Buts in OR, - A Masterpiece Is On Stage at Southwest Shakespeare Company
The creative mind of Liz Duffy Adams seems to know no bounds, her works a diverse and intriguing whirlpool of theatrical concepts. OR, (the comma's title is essential) is no exception; it is, indeed, another jewel in the crown of this master playwright and poet.
She has unearthed the legacy ~ perhaps, more appropriately, the mythology ~ of another once (and from time to time, as historical cycles, tastes, and prejudices have allowed) renowned playwright and poet, Aphra Behn.
OR, is witty, sexy, and sophisticated. It is at once provocative and light-hearted. It embraces, reveres, and elevates the power of the wORd. Adams fulfills the promise of the Prologue, to "enlarge and show a vast unsettled world within that open o and nosing thrust of r." In shORt, in fORm and ORder, OR, is a masterpiece.
Behold, a superlative (and joyfully uninhibited and mirthful) cast ~ three of the region's finest actors ~has honored both with a tour de force performance in the opening offering of Southwest Shakespeare Company's 23rd Season.
History records that Aphra was English-born in 1640, spied (Agent 160, codename: Austria) for King Charles II in Antwerp and Surinam, and ascended to the heights of literary popularity in the '60's. Much in between is uncertain, but Adams fills in the blanks of one pivotal night in Behn's life that unleashes her muse.
On the night in question ~ of multiple questions, in fact, and thus, dear reader, the play's commatized title ~ Aphra (played with flair and mercurial energy by Emily Mohney) is in debtors' prison, itching with pen in hand to be released and get on with life. In sequences reminiscent of Restoration plays (that, too, by the way, were commatized often), a roguish, petulant, and horny Charles (Jesse James Kamps) enters with a ties-attached proposition for her release. She takes a fancy to the cheeky and flirtatious Nell Gwynne (the ever dazzling and inspired Allison Sell in one of three parts), the "antithesis of Puritanism" and a leading lady of the stage. William Scott (Kamps again!), her ex-love, long in exile and aching to relieve his homesickness, dives into the scenery with claims about a Catholic plot to kill the King. Hopes springs forth in this whirlwind of hilarity when Lady Davenant (yea, Kamps a third and equally adrenalized time!), the owner of the Duke's Company, one of two chartered by Charles at the beginning of the Restoration, makes an offer Aphra can ill afford to refuse. The Lady requires a script by morning.
If Aphra, whom Mohney portrays with a marvelous blend of naivete and scruples, amidst all these distractions, can manage to gain a pardon, foil a regicide, and launch a career, what a glorious night's work she'll have accomplished!
Throughout this madcap romp, Adams poses serious themes that resonate across three centuries and suggest parallels between the years of the Restoration and those of the 1960's: the acceptance of women's talents in the domain of the arts; norms of sexuality and sexual preference; the (im)morality of nations. Adams, in an after-show discussion, recounted John Wilmot's statement that "Whore is scarce a more reproachful name Than Poetess," a not unfamiliar chauvinist slam of contemporary times. Adams does not hit the audience over the head with the parallels, but, if you're equipped with historical consciousness, you shouldn't have a problem picking up on them ~ whether or not you see a lava lamp by a bust of Shakespeare or hear phrases that seem more twentieth century than seventeenth.
Director Patrick Walsh, true to the company's mission of presenting plays of rich language, has achieved a hit in a well-paced and brilliantly acted production, aided and abetted by Mallory Prucha's set and Maci Hosler's stunning costumes.
He and we have been graced by three extraordinary performances: Sell (as Nell, the hooded jailer, and a cantankerous but wily servant), for whom no stage is ever large enough to contain her talent; Kamps who is a fireball of comedic energy and shows it in three parts; and Mohney, whose range and depth of artistry is once again affirmed.
In closing, as my own personal tribute to the playwright and mindful of what she represents as a champion of women playwrights, I have penned an ode:
Let us not to the carriage of a lady's true mind
Deny society's impediments.
Rather ~ be honest ~ affirm that once the portals of opportunity are unlatched
A woman's intellect and wisdom will soar like the starling unhatched
And sing songs of liberation
That enhance both hers and her sisters' and brothers' station.
To wit, if Moliere and Wilde had lived as madams
They likely would have been regarded as Liz Duffy Adams.
OR, runs ~ nay frolics and charms ~ through September 17th at Mesa Arts Center's Farnsworth Studio Theater
Photo credit to Southwest Shakespeare Company