By Olivia Montes
Elm Staff Writer
On Oct. 3, 4, and 5, “Or,” directed by Associate Professor of Theatre Brendon Fox, premiered in Tawes Theatre in the Gibson Center of the Arts.
The play starred junior Victoria Gill as Aphra Behn, junior Jake Dipaola as King Charles II and William Scot, and senior Lexy Ricketts as Nell Gwynne.
“‘Or,’ is a fictionalized look at the life of Aphra Behn, a real-life professional woman writer who had an exciting history as a spy, a traveler, a poet, a novelist, and a playwright,” Dr. Courtney Rydel, associate professor of English and member of the talkback from Friday night’s production, said.
“In Aphra Behn, we have this scrappy, intrepid, daring woman, brilliant and tenacious, who is teetering on the brink of financial ruin, does not have a university education, has no family supporting her financially or otherwise, plunging into the turbulent world of Restoration theatre — and she succeeds through dedication to her craft,” she said.
Written by playwright Liz Duffy Adams, “Or,” takes place in one important night of Aphra Behn’s life, as she struggles to complete her last shot at playwrighting success to escape her complicated past.
“When I first chose to direct ‘Or,’ back in the spring, I wanted to do it for a couple of reasons,” Fox said. “I felt it was important to not only expose the students to a fascinating, complicated woman who was ahead of her time, but also a sex-positive play that can depict loving and complex relationships that have problems, but not trauma.”
“What drew me in about the show was the opportunity to have a directing experience alongside the faculty, as well as the importance of the story being told,” junior and Assistant Director Caitlin Woods said.
“Just like the characters, we too live in a ‘time of mingled hope and fear’; we are capable of living just as passionately and uninhibitedly as [Behn does with her work] in the play,” she said.
Despite the distracting opinions of her numerous lovers that conveniently come to her door, Duffy’s play demonstrates the strength, determination, and talent in one of the seventeenth century’s most underrated playwrights.
“Duffy’s play gives us a glimpse of a female writer, which is a little unusual when you think about fictionalized or pop culture representations of authors or writers,” Dr. Rydel said.
“There’s not a lot of images out there of successful women writers, or working-class writers, pulling themselves up by the power of their own pen,” she said.
Behn, despite her wits to make a name for herself in the writing world, must return to face the cruel, dark realities of her past to devote her time and attention on sealing her destiny as both a poet and a playwright before time runs out.
“The more often we hear these types of stories, the easier it is for everyone with that creative spark to have faith that they, too, can make powerful art that is enriched by their own unique experiences and perspective,” Dr. Rydel said.
“We see that on this campus every single day, so to see it on the stage will hopefully inspire students, and interest them in learning more about creators, like Behn, whom they might not yet know about, but who paved the way for them,” she said.
The play explores both Behn’s past and present life, and how she does not allow herself to cave in to the pressures of gender roles surrounding her.
It is Behn’s relentless determination and wit that allows her to finish her play — and with it, create a new name for herself in a strictly male-dominated field.
“This show is a really good time,” Gill said.“It’s witty, sexy, enlightening; it also talks about sex in a way that people are still hesitant to do. Right from the beginning, we break down this discomfort with talking about it and move on, and everything is normal [providing] a safe space for our audience.”
Besides breaking boundaries over once taboo topics such as sexuality, “Or,” seeks to enlighten audiences about the life of an extraordinary writer overshadowed in a male-dominated generation of writers.
“My favorite part about the show is the pace and level of constant action where every time a door slams closed, another swings open and a new character decides to unload all of their problems on poor Aphra Behn,” Dipaola said.
“It adds both the humorous and chaotic energy that I love to see in a performance,” he said.
“I love the farcical elements of the show,” John Leslie, the alum scenic designer/guest artist, class of ’19 said.
“It’s a great burst of energy that mixes incredibly well with discussions of love, art, espionage, and politics,” he said.
Those who worked on the play explained Behn’s impact, and what they hope the audience takes away from the performance.
“This is a play that consists of multitudes that speak to the many challenges Aphra has to overcome,” Leslie said.
“I hope students — or any audience member, for that matter — will discover the English Restoration Comedy theatre era [reaches] beyond the mid-17th century,” he said.
“I hope that people can’t stop thinking about our performance at the end of the night; that they walked away with something, like how some wear a mask to hide themselves, and others wear one so you can get to know their true self,” Dipaola said.