Review: ‘OR,’ at Round House Theatre

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The revolution will not be televised. Nope, it is on stage at Round House Theatre with a playful, headlong charge of a wild comedy. The comedy is called OR, a fictionalized account of free-spirited, real-life folk who set the theater world on-fire with their outlooks and attitudes.

Erin Weaver (Nell Gwynne) and Holly Twyford (Aphra Behn) in OR,. Photo by Grace Toulotte.

With OR, I was engaged and enraptured by the company of three splendid area actors; Holly Twyford, Erin Weaver and Gregory Linington , guided by a director with sure hands for comedy, Aaron Posner. Let me add this aside; I found OR, to be a tasty and early appetizer as I await the 2018 return of the DC Women’s Voices Theater Festival.

Witten by Liz Duffy Adams OR, takes its cues from actual Restoration era England with the demise of the fussy, stick-in-the mud, republican Oliver Cromwell crowd. The newly restored King Charles II revived live theater after a few decades of theater being banned because it was seen as frivolous, if not worse. (Poor Shakespeare). In reviving theater Charles II not only helped it to thrive, but provided his patronage to two women at a time when women were rarely, if ever, permitted to perform on stage, let alone be a playwright. The two were barrier-breaking playwright Aprha Behn and trail-blazing actor Nell Gwynne.

The plot of Adams’ OR, follows Behn as its lynch-pin. Behn (Holly Twyford is the solid warm sun around which all the action swirls) is frantic to get out of jail and no longer to be a spy for the English King (Gregory Linington playing with a glint in his eye and a sly step always ready to pounce). What she wants is to be a playwright. Soon enough Behn lands a play commission for a professional company led by Lady Davenant (Erin Weaver with a joyous upper-class British accent: Tonya Beckman credited as dialect coach), if and only if, she can produce a good script overnight. Phew.

Into Behn’s life appear an old flame named William Scott (Linington again this time as a man who can’t hold his drink), along with King Charles II (Linington) and new flame Nell Gwynn (Erin Weaver as a spunky, nymph-like would-be seducer who at times shows a wide stance that reminded me of images of a once powerful high government official who got himself in some major trouble). Each of these three want to be helpful, but only if Behn will find her way into bed with them. Behn has her own ideas, and being bedded is not one of her priorities. And from this out of the fertile mind of playwright Adams, the fun of OR, takes off for 90 minutes of witty, somewhat hedonistic, totally literate romp.

What I found very appealing beyond the terrific acting, was how director Posner has a painterly approach to the blocking in several scenes. Sure there is plenty of swirling comedy with doors slamming, pratfalls and unbelievably quick changes of costumes for multi-cast Linington and Weaver (Anastazia Whittle credited as wardrobe crew). But what took my breath are more subtle scenes in which Posner has his three actors together like in a Renaissance painting; the characters played by Linington and Weaver gazing up in awe at Twyford. How fitting it felt.

Erin Weaver (Nell Gwynne), Holly Twyford (Aphra Behn), and Gregory Linington (William Scott) in OR,. Photo by Grace Toulotte.

Kudos galore are for the artistic design team with scenic designer Paige Hathaway fabricating a cluttered, lived-in setting appropriate for the keen minds at work. The set is full of little details and a huge bank of windows that have major impact as the performance progresses  Kendra Rai delicious costumes are Restoration-period lovey. Then are Thom Weaver (wonderful use of incandescent lighting)and Christophe Baine (sound) who make magic together with an about 4 minutes scene as day-light fades into the violet hours, then night truly approaches and comes full dark, into the morning sun with the Beatles “Here Comes The Sun” as the underpinning.  Jeez. Wow.

I came away smitten with OR, as a happy, clever excursion into learning history from a different point of view. OR, is the embodiment of literate theater performed by a top-notch cast. Sure, tt has plenty of laughs.  But most of all, at least to me, it made clearer why Virginia Woolf wrote in her seminal A Room of One’s Own, “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn.”  Behn (d.1689) is buried in Westminster Abbey. I made not have know Aprha Behn that well before OR, but Holly Twyford made Behm come alive.

So, if you want comedy tonight, OR, is a great way to have some and way more. My suggestion; get yourself to Bethesda’s Round House to grab a clever, polished, totally unstuffy take on history; all with a smile and a knowing nod back to those we shouldn’t forget.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

OR, plays through May 7, 2017, at Round House Theatre – 4545 East-West Highway, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 644-1100, or purchase them online.

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