When a character in Kickshaw Theatre’s production of Liz Duffy Adams’ “Or,” observed that “freedom, especially for women, is only possible under an enlightened monarch,” a shudder made its way through my body.
Guess I’m just a little extra tense these days, for some reason?
Yes. I suppose I am. But the moment also points to how timely Adams’ 2009 “neo-Restoration” comedy often feels, despite its historical setting. Focused on the pioneering seventeenth century playwright Aphra Behn (Vanessa Sawson), who’d previously worked as a political spy, the 80 minute play begins with Behn in a debtors’ prison’s private cell, writing a letter (in verse) to King Charles II to plead her case. Through this letter, we learn that London’s been ravaged by fire, war, and Plague, and that she landed in jail because her work for the beleaguered government – perhaps not surprisingly – went uncompensated.
However, when an amorous, mysterious visitor wearing a mask (Charles, played by Dan Helmer) arrives in her cell, everything changes. Aphra’s debts are paid; she regains her freedom; and she plans to focus her time and talents on writing plays for the theaters recently re-opened by Charles (they’d been shut down by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans). The rest of the play thus unfolds in Aphra’s workspace, where she’s visited by one of the first and most successful stage actresses of the day, Nell Gwynne (only men had performed on stage previously), played by Mary Dilworth; King Charles II; patroness Lady Davenant (Dilworth); a former lover from her spy days, William Scot (Helmer), who may or may not have information about a plot to kill King Charles; and elderly servant Maria (Dilworth).
“I can write and chat at the same time,” Aphra tells Nell early on. It’s a good thing, because the playwright’s supposed to write an entirely new stage drama in the course of one night for Lady Davenant, despite all the amorous and cloak-and-dagger goings-on. Continue reading