Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Amy Shephard as Nell Gwynne and Kate Kraay as Aphra Behn

“Or,” by Liz Duffy Adams at Harlequin Productions is a Neo-Restoration comedy. Adams has been favorably compared to Tom Stoppard. 

Someone in the lobby at intermission described it as sex, drugs and rock and roll 1600s style — a not-so-accurate description of the play, but an excellent summary of its mood and tenor. 

If “Or,” is short on drugs and rock and roll, it certainly does not skimp on the sex, implied and talked about and simulated in its many varieties — but all fully clothed in elaborate 17th century costumes designed by Monique Anderson. Despite the emphasis on sex and a liberal use of the dreaded F-word, this is not an X rated type of play; although I suspect immature audiences might have a hard time appreciating or understanding it.

Kate Kraay as Aphra Behn and James Weidman as William Scott
Based on historical people and events, “Or,” is the story of Aphra Behn, spy, playwright, novelist and poet. She was a spy for King Charles II, with whom she may or may not have had an affair — much of her history is sketchy at best, and is rife with rumors. She served a stint in debtor’s prison. After getting out of prison she became a successful playwright and poet — the first woman in history to make her living as a playwright and an inspiration to Virginia Woolf among others. She was most likely bisexual and was accused of being a libertine, perhaps because her popular plays were libidinous.

All of these life events are depicted in the play. Plus there is a lot of intrigue and complex relationships between Aphra and her friends, lovers and patrons. 

With only three actors playing seven characters and with no set changes (unless you count an opening scene played out in front of the curtain), “Or,” which premiered in 2009, intelligently and delightfully captures the manners and mores of the Restoration period in Britain while remaining thoroughly contemporary. 

Kate Kraay plays Aphra. Kraay is a newcomer to the Harlequin stage. Now living in Seattle where she has performed in Theater Schmeater and the Seattle Repertory Theatre, she recently returned to the states from graduate studies in physical and experimental theatre at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Tall and regal in appearance, she plays Aphra as a confident and strong woman with a wicked grin. When she speaks directly to the audience, as she does in the opening scene (set in prison), she conveys a sense of intimacy; in scenes with other characters she commands the space, almost everything else revolves around her.

Amy Shephard, who also recently returned from earning a Masters Degree in England — in her case from the University of Exeter — plays the multiple roles of the actress Nell Gwynne, a housekeeper named Maria, and Aphra’s jailor. She’s most outstanding as Nell, who was probably Aphra’s lover in real life and definitely so in “Or,” where she has sex with everyone she can get her hands on. Her sexual advances are replete with exaggerated physical moves and flirty big eyes.

James Weidman, another first-timer on the Harlequin stage who has worked numerous Seattle theaters, plays Charles II, William Scott, and Lady Davenant. He switches roles from king to spy to an eccentric and imperious old lady with ease, convincingly playing three very different characters with just a hint of camp when he appears in drag.

“Or,” has the flavor of a Shakespeare comedy minus the convoluted plotlines and crowded stage. Like the bard’s comedies, this one has hidden identities and cross dressing, and it is playfully risqué. The language is poetic. It slips in and out of rhyme, and manages to sound contemporary while reflecting the speech of 17th century London. There are fast costume changes and a lot of comical surprises. Whenever a character goes into a bedroom or a hallway or a closet, you never know who is going to appear next.

Linda Whitney’s set design is beautiful. The colors are lush with maroon-tinted wood on cabinets and doors, and plaster walls broken and worn to reveal writing on the wall underneath the plaster. The lighting by Amy Chisman is warm and inviting. Sound effects by Gina Salerno are amusing, particularly the squeaking opening and closing of the prison door.

WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through Feb. 16
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151; http://www.harlequinproductions.org/
Jan 30 - Pay What You Can
Feb 1 - Ladies' Night Out
Feb 8 - Pride Night

No comments: