Before Off The Wall Theatre’s production of Or begins, the actors walk out onto the stage and begin organizing their costumes, props, doing vocal warmups, and a bit of light mingling with people they know in the audience. Usually I don’t care much for pre-show stage action, and watching actors do vocal warmups is about as exciting as watching actors do vocal warmups. Their point is made crystal clear though: this is a play that doesn’t aim for any sort of accuracy.
The play focuses on a bit of the life of Aphra Behn, one of the first female playwrights and a British spy. Her life is shrouded in mystery…I mean, raise your hand if you know who Aphra Behn is. Anyone? Alright. The name of the play comes from Aphra’s habit of writing plays with “Or” titles, similar to how say a Lifetime TV movie always uses a colon. The one act play focuses on Aphra’s rush to finish a new work while being distracted by a variety of characters, including quite a old and new lovers. There are about 8 characters in the play, there are only three actors. Aphra is played by Erika Cuenca (who just finished L’hotel at the Public), King Charles II and William Scot are played by Ethan Hova, and Robin Abramson plays the famed actress Nell Gwynne and all the rest of the roles.
The beginning of Or had a bit of a slow start for me, but it was necessary because Aphra addressed the audience directly and explained to them the premise of the script. Liz Duffy Adams’ script isn’t a strict historic piece: the characters talk in a modern tongue (“great pot”) and great liberties with accuracy are taken. The play is supposed to be fun, and the opening scene sets out to make that very clear. The second and last long scene is where the play really picks up, with Aphra getting into crunch time trying to finish this play, only to have all these lovers and formers spies intruding in her home.
Ms. Abramson is fantastic as she runs around and becomes all sorts of characters, each of them with a totally new sight, sound, and way of making the audience laugh. The hunched servant or humpbacked jailor are great, but she also has some wonderful moments as the ultra-cool foul-mouthed Nell Gwynne. Mr. Hova also has quite a workout as the male roles, both of whom couldn’t be more different and towards the end give him a lot of running around to do. Ms. Cuenca has no costume changes to deal with, but still delivers great energy as she becomes the flustered straightman to these wild personalities. The synergy between the three is great and really pushes the show to succeed comically.
Or is really a fast-moving comedy, so much that some jokes might fly too quickly. There’s a recurring gag that whenever one of Aphra’s (future) play titles is mentioned, the lights flash and a musical ping is heard, like a lightbulb flicking on somewhere. The characters reacting to the noise is always hilarious, although who can say how many people got the joke (because, again, who knows Aphra Behn?). Overall though, Or is a good show and Off the Wall has a good production going on right now in Carnegie. I suggest checking it out.
Presented by Off the Wall Theatre Company @ Off the Wall Theater
Directed by John Shepard
Written by Liz Duffy Adams
Starring Robin Abramson (Nell Gwynne and others), Erika Cuenca (Aphra Behn), and Ethan Hova (King Charles II/William Scot).
Photo credits go to Heather Mull. Show runs on the weekends until January 10th. More information and buy tickets here.
Performance Date: December 19, 2014