THEATER REVIEW: “Or,” @ Shakespeare & Co. [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Macey Levin
Aphra Behn is considered to be the first professional woman playwright, having been paid for her first play The Forc’d Marriage in 1670. Her plays, novels and poems were criticized for having too many references to sex and gender equality. There is a great deal of conjecture about her life including the possibility that she was never married to a merchant named John Behn. Having had an earlier career as a spy with a dubious reputation makes her a dramatic subject for a fictionalized, hilarious play by Liz Duffy Adams titled simply Or, at Shakespeare & Co.’s Tina Packer Playhouse in Lenox.
After a prologue and an opening scene that places her in debtor’s prison, the bulk of the play occurs in Behn’s apartments during the course of one night. Several people call on her while she is attempting to write her first play. Through talk about sex, arguments, talk about sex, conversations, talk about sex, displays of wit and a lot of back story, we learn of her adventurous life, but more, we learn of her courage and determination in an age when a woman was not allowed to have a place in the world other than in her home.
Her visitors include King Charles II who has been recently restored to the throne of England and for whom she spied on the Dutch during the second Anglo-Dutch War, the actress Nell Gwynne, a fellow spy William Scot who may also have been working for the Dutch, and the eccentric widow Lady Davenant who produced Behn’s first play. There are several threads of relationships and stories that bind these people together. The recounting of the plot though relatively simple could tend to be convoluted since the interaction of the characters is quite involved. In this production the story is easy to follow because the acting is so wonderful.