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November 30th, 2009

O Joy, O Rapture

I've finished "Flying," my YA vampire circus story with performing cats. I left the dishes undone, drifts of paper on the dining room table, stacks of pictures I promised I'd help hang, a play review for you folks unwritten, and hamper of clothes unwashed, and I did it.

And I'm glad.

Next up: a review of Or, the play written just for us!

Or

Every once in a while, it's my privilege and joy to attend a cultural event that accords with my tastes, preoccupations, enthusiasms, and soft spots to such an extent that I might have written it myself, or at least commissioned it. Such a play is Or.

It's a modest play, in a modest off-Broadway theatre that mostly produces plays by and/or about women on what looks to be a middling sturdy shoe-string. The costumes were nicely-made but not elaborate, the set cardboard and paint and cleverly-set doors, the sound system adequate. There were 3 actors (2 women and a man) playing 6 parts, which necessitated many very quick changes behind the scenes, and enough heavy pink rayon and glittery veiling to transform a half-shaved 6-foot man into a noble Patroness of the Arts Theatrical.

The argument of the play is this:

Aphra Behn, late of His Majesty's secret service, is languishing in prison for debt, writing endless rhymed couplets to Charles II asking him to pay her for services rendered so she can discharge her debts and get on with being the first professional woman playwright in England. Curious, he shows up in her cell and ends up offering to make her his mistress, which offer she accepts, on condition that nobody know about the arrangement.

In the second act, Aphra is visited by Nell Gwynne, who is just beginning to set London by the ears with her beautiful face, her acting ability, her lovers, and her foul mouth. Nell is taken with Aphra, who is equally taken with her, and they're on their way to the bedroom when A Man Arrives. Wackiness ensues, with people hiding in the bedroom and falling out of the armoire and commissioning plays that have to be ready by 9 in the morning and spies and plots and tumbles in the sheets and courtship by rhymed couplet. In the middle of all which, Aphra continues to write, darting to her desk whenever an idea occurs to her, pouncing on her pen and paper, and scribbling until the next plot twist claims her attention.

It was fluff, it was farce, it was funny as hell. It was also intelligent and thoughtful. Liz Duffy Adams, who wrote the play, drew some interesting and thought-provoking parallels between the 1660's and the 1960's, decades of freedom after a repressive regime, of hope and sexual liberation played out against an unpopular war that never seemed likely to end under the rule of an intelligent and charming man who liked the ladies. Nell is dressed in a mod blue velvet knicker suit; Aphra's properly-cut overgown is a psycedelic orange paisley. The music was Dylan and the Beatles and Donovan. It shouldn't have worked (and at first I thought it wasn't going to), but it did, as did the informal language formally cadenced and rhymed, the little 60's catchphrases ("tune in, turn on") slipped into the dialogue, the bisexuality, and the cheerful optimism of the three main characters.

Mileage will definitely vary on this one. If this play has faults, I didn't notice them. If the exposition dragged, I wanted it to go on longer. If Andy Paris (who played King Charles II, etc.) went over the top playing the breathless Lady Davenant, I followed him every inch of the way. I teared up at the end with pure delight. And if you go, and hate it, I don't mind. It was written for me, after all.

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