The Late 17th Century Goes Punk With “Or,” At SATE’s Season Opener

Nicole Angeli, Rachel Tibbetts and John Wolbers romp through "Or," at Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. Photo: Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography

Nicole Angeli, Rachel Tibbetts and John Wolbers romp through “Or,” at Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. Photo: Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography

Playwright Liz Duffy Adams appears to be well versed on the Court of Charles II and the obscure female playwright of that period, Aphra Behn. But she also likes to tweak that history a bit with an embellishment of the characters and the life they “might” have led. The result is a charming romp for the actors portraying those figures with her play, “Or,” opening the season for the Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble.

As the program implies, there is little known about Aphra Behn except that she was a spy in the court of Charles II- the Merry Monarch- and that she was probably one of many, merry mistresses. He did reopen theaters that had been closed when Cromwell and the Puritans had taken over England before Charles came to power. There were also stories of Behn being seen in the company of William Scot, a spy for the Dutch. With the opening of the theaters once again, Lady Mary Davenant became a patron of the arts and managed the Duke’s Company, championed by Charles. Then along came actors and saucy actresses like Nell Gwyn who scandalized London and soon fell into the favor of Charles as well.

Nicole Angeli is unaware as John Wolbers accepts libation from Rachel Tibbetts in SATE's "Or," Photo: Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography

Nicole Angeli is unaware as John Wolbers accepts libation from Rachel Tibbetts in SATE’s “Or,” Photo: Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography

This mish-mash of characters and others are all paraded on stage by three actors of renown from the local establishment. Rachel Tibbetts commands the stage as the most “under-dressed” of the group as the playwright Aphra Behn. She is writing from her jail cell as the show opens but she quickly moves into a lodging house once the king grants her release. She handily relates the story of this little known force in Restoration theatre and carries through, often becoming a traffic cop in a stage that seems crowded with the other actors changing roles- often in seconds.

Nicole Angeli, complete with bright orange wig and outrageous “finery,” struts her stuff as the actress/wench, Nell. She also takes on a few other roles including the landlady of the hostelry and the patron Lady Davenant but she is simply dynamite as the outspoken and liberated actress who becomes mistress to both Aphra and King Charles. John Wolbers completes the trifecta as the flouncy Charles and Aphra’s almost afterthought of a boyfriend William. These three manage to make the stage crackle with a wild mix of incongruity and believability. It’s a treat to see these 17th Century figures react as they probably did at the time with wild, sexual abandon, but it’s also fun to see the modern punk influence of Adams’ script.

Director Ellie Schwetye leaves no stone unturned as she explores this delicious, if a bit drawn out play. It helps to have everything from Joni Mitchell to Queen Latifah to Missy Elliott pouring through the musical intros and interludes throughout the evening. Schwetye plays on the eccentricities of the script and makes this a broad satire of the times- both 17th and 21st centuries. She is helped by the simple, yet effective set design featuring the “O” and “r” of the play’s title as the focal point and a lighting design that follows suit as well. Both are by the multi-talented Bess Moynihan. Elizabeth Henning’s costumes reflect the fun of mixing up the two time periods and both Tibbetts and Schwetye combined for the great music and sound choices.

Like the other one-act that opened this past week-end, this one goes on a bit too long and would have benefited from a little judicious cutting. It goes on for over 90 minutes. Thank heavens we have three fine actors on stage who hold our attention through this barrage of the senses so, even with a script a little long for its own good, “Or,” is a treat and a delight. Catch it through February 27th. Give SATE a call at 314-827-5760 or visit them at http://www.slightlyoff.org for tickets or more information.

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