Rep Stage opens season with a romp through the Restoration
It seems unlikely that many Americans are well up on the Restoration period in England.
We know something of the Puritans who had their heyday before that period, primarily because of their legacy on these shores (a legacy that seems to rise up again with every few election cycles).
But we know little, I suspect, of Charles II, let alone Aphra Behn, the first woman in England to make a living from poetry and plays.
Those historical figures (or, at least, approximations) and some heated issues from the Restoration get a work out in "Or," a recent play by Liz Duffy Adams that serves as the 19th season-opener for Rep Stage.
Part of the fun comes from the way Adams weaves the 1960s into that 1660s milieu, with assorted political, economic and, especially, sexual references that have a way of connecting the two eras. There are some obvious connections to the early 2000s as well.
In an intermission-less stretch of 90 minutes, the play largely succeeds in providing context and fleshing out characters, although it would be nice to get more of a sense of Behn's theatrical career (the plot concerns her steps toward that career). The story is deliverered in between bursts of farce -- lots of doors opening and closing, confused identities, sudden plot twists.
Whether all the details packed into the work have a ring of truth is beside the point. For all of the comedy in the piece, it is, at heart ...
"Or" doesn't always crackle. The opening scene, set in a debtor's prison, where Aphra spent some time after spying on behalf of Charles, takes too long to percolate. Some of the subsequent humor has a forced quality.
And I hate to sound even remotely puritanical, but Adams over-salts the script with profanity, a practice that also takes on the air of contrivance after a while.
Still, the cleverness and entertainment in the material hold rewards, which find a mostly satisfying outlet in the Rep Stage production, directed at a more or less propulsive pace by Michael Stebbins. (Performances run through Sept. 18.)
Charlotte Cohn, as Aphra, tends to stay on low burner. There's something curiously passive much of the time in her performance; more vitality and expressive nuance would help explain why the character left such an imprint.
Jason Odell Williams hits the mark more winningly in a triple-role assignment. He's droll as Charles; explosive as William Scott, a spy and possible revolutionary who complicates matters; and very funny as Lady Davenant, a theater producer eager for a stage-worthy "comi-tragedy" from the pen of Aphra.
Lady Davenant gets the most virtuosic speech in Adams' play, and Williams delivers the breathless lines with bravura to spare.
Christine Demuth rounds out the cast playing another three characters. She does the most effective scenery-chewing as Nell Gwynne, the celebrated actress of the day who is ready and willing to pursue just about any dalliance.
James Fouchard's effective set design is speckled with peace symbols, daisies and other allusions to the Age of Aquarius. Splashes of music, including suggestions of the Beatles and Barry White, pop up in wry fashion. Melanie Clark's fanciful costumes complete the staging's visual flair.
PHOTOS (by Stan Barouh) COURTESY OF REP STAGE