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“Or,” shows that free love can abound, even in Classical Europe

Published: October 12, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc., Featured


In the Shapiro Campus Center Theater on Thursday, Brandeis Players began their weekend-long run of “Or,” a play by Liz Duffy Adams. The Brandeis Players are a member of the Undergraduate Theater Collective (UTC), the umbrella organization that helps to organize a large portion of Brandeis’ undergraduate theater. “Or,” was the second play directed by Justy Kosek ’14, who directed “Waiting for Godot” last fall. Yoni Bronstein ’13 produced “Or,” and Saka Adler ’16 stage-managed the production. The play will perform at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Set in the 1660s, “Or,” tells the story of Aphra Behn (Anneke Reich ’13), the first female playwright who is also a former spy for Great Britain. While in debtor’s prison during the play’s first scene, Aphra gains the sponsorship of King Charles II (Alex Karel ’14) for her theatrical career, and thanks to his infatuation with her, pays her debts to have her released. The majority of the play, however, occurs some time in the future, as Aphra is now living in a fairly upper-class house in London along with her servant Maria (Maya Grant ’13). Within a single, chaotic night, she must try to balance secret rendezvous with both Charles and another lover, the actress Nell (Corrie Legg ’13). She also needs to finish writing a play for the eccentric Lady Davenant (Christopher Knight ’14), as well as contend with the appearance of William Scott (Andrew Prentice ’13), a former lover and colleague from her time as a spy.

The characterizations in “Or,” were stellar, and gave the audience reason to feel as if they were truly in the room with the characters, watching the chaos unfold. From Charles’ carefree, whimsical attitude to Aphra’s passion for both of her lovers, there was rarely a dull and boring moment. William’s dark, grim outlook on life also provided contrast to the others’ relatively happy attitudes, and provided yet another level of depth for “Or.” Maria’s infrequent appearances also provided some comic relief from the serious aspects of the show; her illustrations of how she had followed Aphra through “stinking swamps, stinking jungles, stinking prisons” and other horrible places elicited laughter from the largely silent audience.

A minimalist set and technical approach also add to the appeal of “Or,” by giving the show another way to focus more on its characters rather than technical flair and pizzazz. The set was well constructed, consisting only of a jail cell and the living room of Aphra’s London home. Lighting in the play was kept to a minimum, mainly signifying a scene change or Aphra’s monologue at the play’s beginning. The audio of the play was comprised mostly of the actor’s voices, including a couple of song tracks played in between scenes and at curtain call. Despite being held in the SCC Theater, the performance felt like it was in a black box, and the size of the room was quickly forgotten as the play progressed.

One of the greatest aspects of “Or,” is its willingness to tackle extremely hot-button topics head-on, and treat them as if they were ordinary aspects of life. When Aphra’s life as a spy comes back to haunt her via William, for example, the audience is introduced to a side of Aphra that deals with treason, murder and even war crimes. These are topics that she clearly has trouble dealing with, although she insists that she has put them behind her. Her cavalier attitudes toward sex and love also represent beliefs that were almost non-existent in the 1660s, and yet still have trouble being accepted today (think the “free love” beliefs of the late 1960s). These views are mirrored in Nell, who is portrayed as someone who couldn’t care less, cursing and yelling sexual innuendos with wild abandon that is often seen in middle school locker rooms. Her utter acceptance of a “to each his/her own policy” helps to keep “Or,” from being hung up on its acceptance of sexual and romantic freedom, and instead keeps the play lively and entertaining during its 90-minute length.

Overall, “Or,” allows audiences to see the story of Aphra, and her quest to find her identity among her various lovers and her careers as a spy and a playwright. Whether it’s the rhyming lines that abound in the script, the noticeable absence of sexual tension in many scenes or the drunken confusion of William as to why everyone has disappeared, “Or,” keeps the audience’s attention for its entirety. Brandeis Players’ latest production is definitely worth seeing before the weekend is over.