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Theatre Review: Actors’ Theatre’s Gleeful, Bawdy ‘Or’

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Theatre Review: Actors’ Theatre’s Gleeful, Bawdy ‘Or’(l-r) McLane Nagy as Nell Gwynn, Michelle Weiser as Aphra Behn and Andy Woodmansee as King Charles in the Actors’ Theatre production of Or, by Liz Duffy Adams = Photo courtesy A. Simon
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Actors’ Theatre presents Liz Duffy Adams’ restoration-era farce, Or, in a crackling production directed by Rowan Winterwood with the right amounts of sweet and hot.

Or finds Aphra Behn (Michelle Weiser), poet and former spy, in a debtors’ prison from unpaid wages due to an untimely beheading of her boss, the King, in the rise of the previous government. Two saviors herald a new age for both England and Behn – the new King Charles, paying her debts and installing her in an estate to write her first play, and Lady Davenant, the rising patron of contemporary theatre in London. 

This new day is tethered to the past and complicated by an old lover and fellow spy, thought dead, William Scot, and a new lover and rising actress Nell Gwynne, creating two interlocking love triangles between Behn, Scott, Gwynne, and Charles II. A hilarious, sharp-edged McLane Nagy covers all the female roles other than Behn. Andy Woodmansee handles all male roles with the perfect mix of dashing and sleazy.

Andy Woodmansee as King Charles and Michelle Weiser as Aphra Behn in the Actors’ Theatre production of Or, by Liz Duffy Adams – Photo courtesy A. Simon

Winterwood’s direction uses the space effectively as she highlights the playwrights’ intention of these characters as different sides of the same coin. She and her cast sail through the virtuosic slammed-door farce with the same actors being shut behind one door to emerge from another as the other character. It’s dazzling, but never cartoonish. Woodmansee and Nagy keep the characters grounded in a physical, intense reality.

Weiser knocks this out of the park with a rapturous take on Behn. She epitomizes the combination of one eye on immortality and one always on amusing herself foremost. The wit and sudden rhymes of Duffy’s excellent riffs on Restoration-era language flow easily out of her and the chemistry with her two costars singed my eyebrows.

Or is witty, ribald fun, a delightful escape from the cold and grey of an Ohio January. 

Or runs through January 26 with performances at 8:00 p.m. Friday through Sunday. For tickets and more info, visit heactorstheatre.org.

McLane Nagy as Nell Gwynn and Michelle Weiser as Aphra Behn in the Actors’ Theatre production of Or, by Liz Duffy Adams – Photo courtesy A. Simon
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