Written by Liz Duffy Adams, Directed by Daniel Gidron; Scenic Properties/Design, Dahlia Al-Habieli; Costume Design, Emily Woods Hogue; Lighting Design, John Cuff; Sound Design, Chris Bocchiaro; Production Stage Manager, Maureen Lane; Assistant Stage Manager, Eliza Mulcahy
CAST: Stacy Fischer, Hannah Husband, Ro'ee Levi
Performances through November 6 at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston; Box Office 617-585-5678 or www.lyricstage.com
Thank goodness for the reign of British King Charles II (1660-1685), the first monarch to rule England after the Restoration, for he reopened the theatres which had been closed during the protectorship of his predecessor Lord Oliver Cromwell. Imagine London without the West End or Broadway without the successful transfers from across the pond, and you can appreciate the magnitude of his edict. Charles II is one of five historical characters in Or, playwright Liz Duffy Adams' comic sex farce directed by Daniel Gidron at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston.
Set in London in the latter half of the 1660s, Or, (n.b. that the comma is part of the title) takes liberties with some of the historical facts in relating the story of Aphra Behn, a British spy, poet, and one of the first women to earn a living as a writer in the English language. In addition to her patron Charles, Behn's companions in the play are the prostitute-turned-actress Nell Gwynne, theatrical producer Lady Davenant, fellow spy and former lover William Scott, and Maria, her loyal woman servant.
The conjunction as title serves a dual purpose in that it refers to a common practice of giving plays two titles (e.g., Twelfth Night, or What You Will), a custom that Lady Davenant discourages Behn from employing when she commissions a manuscript from her, as well as implying that there's more than one side to each character's identity. For example, does Behn merit her socially accepted independence as a widow, or was her late husband a creation of her imagination? Does she fall in love with the king, or does Gwynne steal her heart? And what of the king? Can he devote himself to one woman, or does he continue to love the one he's with? In the case of William Scott, is he a double agent or traitor to the throne? Heightening the intentional puzzlement, Ro'ee Levi plays the roles of both Charles and William, and Hannah Husband covers the parts of Gwynne, Maria, and Lady Davenant. Stacy Fischer as Behn is the only one of the three cast members who does not morph into another being, although there are many facets to her singular character.
Fischer makes those facets sparkle with her flashing eyes and inviting dimples. She has to juggle a lot of balls (figuratively) and slam a lot of doors (literally) throughout the play and never misses a cue or a laugh. She shares great chemistry with Levi and Husband, which is a good thing since the duo combines to play three of her lovers. Emily Woods Hogue provides beautiful period costumes to precisely differentiate between the characters, but Levi and Husband also take on distinctly different postures and dialects that work and consistently elevate the humor quotient. With its countless entrances, exits, and costume changes, Or, necessitates split-second timing (and capable backstage dressers) and this trio makes good on it. Gidron schooled them well in applying an array of accents and enunciating their lines, too, to avoid any of the delicious dialogue being swallowed up in a frenetic scene.
Speaking of doors, what would farce be without a set reminiscent of "Let's Make a Deal?" Dahlia Al-Habieli has crafted a playhouse with door number one, door number two, and door number three in Behn's parlor for all of those entrances and exits. The colors of the scenery and costumes blend well together, all warmly lit by John Cuff's design. In the opening scene of the play, when Behn is languishing in a debtor's prison, Sound Designer Chris Bocchiaro ushers visitors into her private room with the unmistakable sound of a clanging jail cell door, and clearly produces an offstage gunshot, but I won't tell you why or when.