(l-r) Maggie Mason and Natacha Roi as Nell Gwynne and Aphra Behn in Magic Theatre's Or, at the Magic Theatre.

“OR,” by Liz Duffy Adams, directed by Loretta Greco. Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94123. 415-441-8822 or www.magictheatre.org November 4 -December 5, 2010.


Move over Amy Freed and make room for the newest kid on the playwriting block. Locally and internationally known Freed charmed the Bay Area with The Beard of Avon (A.C.T.) and Restoration Comedy (CalShakes) taking the audience on a journey into English history with wit, intelligence and playwriting moxie. Along comes Liz Duffy Adams with the West Coast premier of “Or,” that has the same qualities but requires only three actors and 85 minutes to mesmerize and receive a standing ovation from the opening night crowd at the intimate Magic Theatre.

The time is the 1660s and the place is London. The monarchy has been restored and the theatres reopened after being closed during the reign of Charles I. With , the theaters reopened women were allowed to have careers as actors. Thus began the ribald style of Restoration comedy. Although Ms. Adams has taken liberties with the telling of the trials, tribulations, intrigue and adventures of Aphra Behn (Natacha Roi), the word’s first female professional playwright, the basics are true.

In the opening scene, she is in debtor’s prison “Languishing unransomed and alone./ Abandoned by the great who late I served.” composing a letter (in iambic verse) to King Charles II pleading for payment for her services as one of his spies. Brilliant director Loretta Greco cleverly allows a stagehand to remove her grungy prison clothes; replacing them with a corseted gown (costumes by Alex Jaeger) before a masked stranger enters. It is the King (Ben Huber) and after a spirited exchange, he agrees to free her and allow her to begin her new career as a playwright.

Down comes the dingy sack cloth draping the rear wall and we are in Aphra’s quarters (sets by Michael Locher) where she is sharing a pipe with celebrated actress Nell Gwynne (Maggie Mason) dressed in men’s clothes (“Good weed. . . I haven’t been able to afford it since they raised the tax.”) As the kiss again, “Tune in and turnout.”. Sound familiar? Ms. .Adams mixes Restoration iambics with modern vernacular and slang to consummate effect. Natacha Roi in the lead role displays resolve, warmth and humor and is bolstered by the other members of the cast.

With three characters in place it is time to bring in the others characters to liven up the action. It is Huber and Mason who provide four more characters to start the fun with entrances and exits with one door and armoire all that is needed for the farcical histrionics. Huber doubles as Charles II and William Scott fugitive from the Monarchy, former spy/partner/lover of Aphra (agent 160). Mason is a bundle of energy as she switches from Toy Boy Nell Gwynne, to no nonsense maid Marie and theatrical producer Lady Davenant who insists that the new play should be finished by morning and I won’t have one of the “or” titles. . . the something, something OR what something.”

This staging is a truly fine ensemble performance that surely will have an extended run. Just in case of “maybe not”, get thee hence for a wildly ribald, historical, sex romp in the style of Restoration comedy. The too short evening is a marvel of great writing, fantastic acting, superb direction and with a title without using the proverbial “Or,”.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com

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