Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell
June 29, 2023 Issue
A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.
PART 4A: TRIANGLE THEATER REVIEW BY KURT BENRUD
Switchyard's Or, Is a Delicious Blend of Comedy and Historical Fiction
Hats-off to Switchyard Theatre Company on two counts:
- For choosing to produce Liz Duffy Adams' delightful "historical comedy" Or,. (Quick Note: the comma (,) is a necessary part of the title.
- For doing such a bang-up job.
Or, does not merely entertain; it calls attention to a neglected period in the history of English theater -- the 50-year period that began in 1660 with the Restoration of the monarchy (which, thankfully, enabled the "restoration" of theater in England and -- finally! -- ushered in the opportunity for women to be performers and playwrights).
Hopefully, the delights of this 85-minute romp will inspire theatergoers to learn a little more about the work of Aphra Behn (England's first female playwright) and about Nell Gwyn (a star among England's first female actors).
Lucy Duffy Adams begins the play with an homage to the Restoration Comedy tradition of having one of the actors deliver an induction in which the actor addresses the audience "as herself" rather than as a character in the play -- a sort of "confidential chat" between performer and audience, if you will. She begins by supplying part of the reason why Adams chose to name her play Or,:
Or, Now that's a very little word
On which to hang an evening's worth of show
But I will now that little word enlarge
And show a vast unsettled world within
That open O and nosing thrust of R.
The induction then continues to explore some "either ... or" concepts that the script will address.
The language and the syntax of this speech, along with the iambic pentameter, echo the works of Shakespeare. And the phrase "That open O" reminds us of Henry V's reference to "this wooden O." (Later in the play, there will be a reference to the use of the word "or" when titling a play -- another echo of the Bard, in this case the title Twelfth Night; or, What You Will.)
At the end of this induction, Lucy Duffy Adams brings us into the 21st century, ending the speech with:
O! Fire exits! There and there, all right?
Are all your cell phones off? Yes? Very good.
Compose yourselves for pleasure, if you will.
Cue the lights, let never time stand still.
Continuing the homages to various periods of theater history, Adams gives us an opening scene that makes use of rhymed couplets. And even though there are only two doors at the back of the set, director Charles Machalicky teams up with playwright Adams to make expert use of the three-door fast-paced comedy routine that was common in ancient Roman comedy. (I also noted the play's adherence to the classical unities of time and place.)
Enough with my pseudo-scholarly commentary!
Or, gives a "what it" scenario of an intersection between the lives of Aphra Behn (a one-time spy-for-the-crown-turned-aspiring-playwright), Nell Gwyn (a worldly, fun-loving actress who likes to "cross-dress" and appears to love women as well as men), King Charles II (the "merry monarch" who had a half-dozen mistresses in addition to a wife), Lady Davenant (a famous and determined outspoken theater manager), William Scot (a former lover of Behn's from her days as a spy), and the maid who works in the building that houses Behn's apartment.
The result is a high-octane, full-speed-ahead series of interactions that threaten to distract Behn from meeting the deadline for completing her first play.
Switchyard Theatre Company's production of Or,, directed by Charles Machalicky, stars (from left) Ryan
McDaniel as King Charles II, Kelly McDaniel as Nell Gwynn, and Laurel Ullman as Aphra Behn
Laurel Ullman finds every nuance for the character of Aphra Behn, and she makes a clear distinction between herself and Behn as the play shifts gears from induction to Scene One. Ulman and Behn very clearly enjoy themselves as they entertain their audience. Ullman's compatibility with all of the other characters accentuates the meaning of the phrase "plays well with others."
Kelly McDaniel is a scream in all three of her roles -- Nell Gwynn, Lady Davenant, and Maria. Even if there had been no costume changes, the shifts in posture, cadence, voice, and accent would have been more than enough to establish three different characters. I would be hard pressed to pick which of her characters was "the best." I will, however, have to give "extra credit" to Lady Davenant, because of the masterful delivery of her raucously funny lightning-speed monologue. (And an additional kudo is in order for Ullman for her ability to blend in so well during this scene.)
Ryan McDaniel is every bit as delightful in his portrayals of King Charles, of William Scot, and of the Jailer. (Again, costumes would not have been necessary.) "Characteristic expression" is the term that comes to mind. That is, each of his three characters had a different "square one" from which to launch his facial expressions during his characters' interactions with Behn and Gwynne.
Every interaction between all of these characters is well-paced and perfectly timed. And it would be impossible to say enough about the dexterity with which McDaniel and McDaniel handle their exits as one character and reentries as another. I suspect that they were assisted in these efforts by a few very capable backstage dressers. Side Note: These exit/enter maneuvers added an extra dimension of hilarity.
Although I said that "costumes were not necessary," I must tip my hat to costume designer Ariel Sanders for the delightful period clothing worn by these three actors as they portray these seven characters.
Sound designer Michael Sean Parker and lighting designer Matthew Adelson team up with Sanders to masterfully transport us into the 1660s world while seasoning the sound and the set with hints of the 1960s.
- The choices of music for preshow.
- The designs on the upstage doors.
- The shadows of bars that dominate the jail-cell scene.
- The positioning of an instrumental version of a certain Beatles song on harpsichord!
- Including two members of the crew (presumably the dressers?) in the curtain-call.
From the Department of Picky-Picky:
Liz Duffy Adams' Or, stars Laurel Ullman and Ryan McDaniel as Aphra Behn and King Charles II
Early in his first scene, William Scot steals an item from Behn's desk. This little "palm it and pocket it" maneuver was quite evident (and very funny) from my house-right seat, but I am certain that 90% of Friday night's audience missed out on it. Perhaps, McDaniel could rotate his body during this process? Perhaps, Ullman could somehow call a little more attention to the presence of the item in question?
Like I said, "picky-picky," but I do remember wondering "What was that thing?" "Will this theft be important?" and "Did anyone else see him do that?"
Anyway: Many thanks to Liz Duffy Adams, to Switchyard Theatre Company, to director Charles Machalicky, to the designers, to the cast, and to the crew for brightening up our lives with this production of Or,. Having attended the show, I now feel more educated, enlightened, and delighted; and I encourage others to follow suit.
Ryan McDaniel and Laurel Ullman star as William Scot and Aphra Behn in Liz Duffy Adams' Or,
Liz Duffy Adams' OR, (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, June 24th and 25th), directed by Charles Machalicky, presented as part of Burning Coal Theatre Company's Second Stage Series, and starring Laurel Ullman as Aphra Behn, Ryan McDaniel as Charles II/William Scot/Jailer, and Kelly McDaniel as Nell Gwyn/Maria/Lady Davenant (Switchyard Theatre Company and Burning Coal Theatre Company in Burning Coal's Murphey School Auditorium in Raleigh). PRESENTER (Switchyard Theatre Company): https://switchyardtheatrecompany.org/, http://www.facebook.com/switchyardtc, and https://instagram.com/switchyardtc, and https://www.youtube.com/@switchyardtheatrecompany494. 2022-23 SEASON: https://switchyardtheatrecompany.org/tag/2022-23/. PRESENTER (Burning Coal Theatre Company): https://burningcoal.org/, https://www.facebook.com/burningcoaltheatrecompany, https://www.instagram.com/burningcoaltc/, https://twitter.com/burningcoaltc, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3qVv6iWGS3yQtVoFH5_XNQ. PODCASTS: https://burningcoal.podbean.com/. SECOND-STAGE SEASON: https://burningcoal.org/second-stage/. VENUE (Murphey School Auditorium): https://burningcoal.org/plan-your-visit/ and https://burningcoal.org/history-of-the-murphey-school/. DIRECTIONS/PARKING: https://burningcoal.org/plan-your-visit/. COVID PRECAUTIONS: https://burningcoal.org/covid-precautions/. OR, (2009 Off-Broadway Historical Play): http://lizduffyadams.com/play3, https://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4203, and http://www.iobdb.com/Production/4940. THE SCRIPT (PDF Preview): https://www.dramatists.com/previews/4203.pdf. LIZ DUFFY ADAMS (New York City-based playwright): http://lizduffyadams.com/, https://newplayexchange.org/users/150/liz-duffy-adams, http://www.iobdb.com/CreditableEntity/37865, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liz_Duffy_Adams. CONTENT ADVISORY: This show contains STRONG LANGUAGE, SEXUAL CONTACT, and ADULT SITUATIONS. TICKETS: $25 ($10 students and $20 seniors 65+), plus taxes and fees. Click here to buy tickets. STC INFORMATION: 919-926-9906 or firstname.lastname@example.org. BCTC INFORMATION: 919-834-4001 or email@example.com. PLEASE DONATE TO: Switchyard Theatre Company and Burning Coal Theatre Company.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights' Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with North Carolina Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review.
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