“Or,” is good English-majory fun. With spy/author Aphra Behn, that most fascinating and mysterious figure of the English Restoration as its heroine, it’s like a feminist’s “Shakespeare in Love.” It’s got the intrigue, the sexiness, the gender-play, and the winking parallels between history and the present.
Just like an English major, however, it often walks a fine line between cleverness and self-indulgent ostentation. Playwright Liz Duffy Adams begins with and sometimes lapses back into her imitation of period verse, and this can be cloying. The play’s preface features an overt display of anachronism to get you in the mood, and then a detailed explication of the play’s title. It’s tedious. Once you get passed this though, you get to some good stuff.
The heart of the play takes place in our heroine’s apartment, with an ex-lover and spy hiding in her wardrobe; a new lover, actress Nell Gwynne, hiding in her bedroom; and her patrons, King Charles II and theatre maven Lady Davenant, coming and going as they please. We don’t get quite as deep into farce territory as you might expect with this setup but we do get see our super spy/lover/poetess negotiate between these roles at a dizzying speed.
Stacy Fisher is up to the task. As Aphra, she finds an eye of calm in a tornado of swift, dire calculations. Each dilemma reads on her face and not a word is lost of the relentless speeches that pour from her lips as she talks herself in and out of each with barely a pause for an embrace or two. With big brown eyes and a nimble tongue she seduces every man and women in her compass.
Her equally talented co-stars, meanwhile, Hannah Husband as the women and Ro-ee Levi as the men, are a flurry of wigs, masks and accents. In a way it’s a shame to tip you off that Levi, in particular stands in for a jailor, a king and a spy, all marvelously distinct, but even if I hadn’t your playbill would have.
“Or,” is definitely the work of a romantic imagination. Its Aphra Behn is a bit too lacking in flaw for so complex a character. Its Charles II is a bit too genteel. For a man of means whose life is threatened, it’s strange that he’s never attended and never armed. And so on. There are plenty of nits but none so meddlesome that they won’t be fun to pick—in an English majory way, that is.
Directed by Daniel Gidron, “Or,” plays at the Lyric Stage Company through November 6.