Too Much of a Good Thing is Just Wonderful: Why Have One Thing “Or,” the Other When You Can Have It All?

Photo by Chelsea Ruscio.

Presented by Maiden Phoenix and Simple Machine
By Liz Duffy Adams
Directed by Adrienne Boris
September 8 – September 23, 2017

Chelsea Theatre Works
189 Winnismmet Street
Chelsea, MA 02150
OR the play on Facebook

Review by Gillian Daniels

(Chelsea, MA) I sometimes think going to a play is a bit like going to a party where you know nobody at all, save for the person you bring with you. Sometimes, the party can leave you feeling adrift and awkward in your own skin. Other times, you meet some funny, clever people you never expected to meet. They are delighted to include you, for an hour or so (or an eighty minute run time without intermission), in the intimate secrets of their lives and draw you close with the honesty only complete strangers would dare to share with you. The sweet, hilarious, and deliciously bawdy “Or,” is such a party. I recommend attending as soon as possible in order to enjoy the yarn spun between Kaylyn Bancroft (Nell Gwynne/Lady Davenant/Maria/A Jailer), Michael Poignand (as slimily charming King Charles II and charmingly slimy William Scott, divided by a common language with different annunciation) and Anna Waldron (Aphra Behn).

For a long time, I’ve been looking forward to catching the next Maiden Phoenix production. I look back on their Winter’s Tale in 2015 with nothing but delight, whatever my hesitations regarding the show at the time. Pursuing a subject like England’s first prominent female playwright (and a rumored spy) is absolute catnip to me.

Aphra Behn has felt some contemporary prominence with the help of Virginia Woolf, who wrote, “All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn […] for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.” The decision by director Adrienne Boris to do Liz Duffy Adams’ “Or,” fills me with a luminescent joy as well as the hope that Behn’s work will continue to be celebrated in this modern age. Paired with an elegant but brief title, and the weight of a poetess icon, the show heaves with ambition before it’s even out of the gate.

I did not leave disappointed. The show is magic, if magic is a thing that only exists as infinite possibility. “Or,” much like its title, is about existing in a liminal space made up of disparate elements and many options.

Aphra Behn is simultaneously leaving behind her noir life of spying (and unfortunate stay in debtor’s prison) to enter a polished, ambitious world of fame as a writer, but she has not quite made the leap from one to the next yet. She’s in lust with Charles II and, while passionate about his word games and double entendres, has yet to consummate their arrangement. She’s also just getting over her first romance with dubious double agent, William Scott, and considering engaging in a same sex affair with popular actress and famed kept woman, Nell Gwynne.

Not content with the in-between spaces occupied by human sexuality, climbing the ladder rungs of capitalism, libertine relationships, and women seeking power, “Or,” is also about what it means to be a writer. As Aphra Behn juggles her increasingly complicated and exhausting social life, she’s also struggling to finish a play for patroness Lady Davenant. In her writing, she escapes from all complexity into the joy of creating something from nothing at all. Her obsession with word play, her happiness to get back to the page, feels triumphant, the simple heart of a woman associated with excess.

My only complaint is with the set. The show is held together by its own warmth, cleverness, and the enthusiasm of its actors, but the same cannot be said for the wobbling walls and doors of Aphra Behn’s apartment.

Anna Waldron’s Aphra Behn balances an opportunistic sensibility with a loving nature while Michael Poignard delights in being dastardly, but Kaylyn Bancroft’s flexibility is astonishing. She proves her acting chops through out by jumping through four different roles, all discrete from each other, memorable, and hilarious. Her take on Nell is charming, her Maria is hilariously brittle, and Lady Davenant manages to steal the show.

Please run, do not walk, to “Or,” as it’s a party no one who has the chance to go should miss.


Queen’s Note:
We elected a thin-skinned Nazi to the office of the President who is turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.

Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD

TCG has a list of things you can do to help.

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