Review: ‘OR,’ at Shakespeare & Company
- OnStage Massachusetts Critic
LENOX MA - ‘OR,’ is wittily written by Liz Duffy Adams and is a story about the first credited female playwright, Aphra Behn, who has been given the opportunity to have her play produced if only she can finish writing it. Over the course of one night, one distraction after another turns her focus away from her play, and on to handling the chaos that surrounds her. It is in true multitasking fashion that she not only has a bit of fun, has meaningful conversations with friends and saves a life, all while penning her play.
The opening monologue, performed by Tod Randolph, discussed the word ‘or’ and how it perfectly captures the essence of the play and the constant choices we face in life. The rhythmic speech and rhyming lines were characteristics that would be heard throughout the play. And it was in this monologue that the captivation of the audience began.
Set designer Sandra Goldmark kept things simple at the start with solid wooden furniture including a trunk and desk that would remain stationary throughout the play sitting atop a floor of red painted planks. My amazement with this production began as a cage-like jail cell descended over the center of the stage enclosing Aphra and immediately bringing the audience into her world.
Playwright Aphra Behn was magnificently portrayed by Shakespeare & Company veteran Tod Randolph. She showed a range of emotion, but always had command of the stage. As Aphra, she was quick witted, sharp and displayed a powerful femininity that was rare in the late 1660’s. Aphra had no problem speaking her mind no matter who she was speaking to and Randolph fully embodied this strength. Her connection to her character and how she interacted with the other characters made it easy to believe that the story they played out was completely accurate and we were mere bystanders watching these real people live their lives. Allyn Burrows as wonderful giving contrasting performances of King Charles II and William Scott. He was charming, yet aggressive, his wit and sharpness matched well with Randolph and her performance of Aphra.
Nehassaiu deGannes was fantastically dynamic as her three characters: actress Nell Gwynne, maid Maria, and co-owner of the Duke’s Company, Lady Davenant. As Nell Gwynne she was young and sassy, but in a smart and mature way. Her portrayal of loyal maid Maria was amusing and contrasted with the higher-born Lady Davenant. Her characterization of Lady Davenant was absolutely incredible. Her monologue was hilarious not only because of what she was saying but how she was saying it. The audience particularly enjoyed her comments about how other plays of the time were using the word ‘or’ in their titles and she believed the playwright should just pick one and not cover the entire poster with the title. Though she was not on stage long she was well deserving of the applause she received upon her exit.
The show is fast paced and requires the audience to focus on what is being said, the characters and their relationships to each other. It is not a fluff piece with which you can just sit back, relax and not have to think in order to fully grasp it; knowing that and the fact that this play is about real people in history made it all the more enjoyable.
‘OR,’ is intellectually written with a few strokes of humor and is very interesting to watch thanks to creative staging by director Alice Reagan. Many in the audience gave it a standing ovation. ‘OR,’ is playing in the Tina Packer Playhouse until September 4th and runs about 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets and more information can be found at www.shakespeare.org.
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