BWW Reviews: OR, at the Seattle Rep
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by Jay Irwin
Right from the moment we first meet Aphra (Kirsten Potter) at the top of the Seattle Rep's current production of "Or," by Liz Duffy Adams, we know we are in for one hell of a ride. And what a ride it is! This deliciously naughty look into one of the first female playwrights will keep you rolling with laughter while still managing an undercurrent of sweetness.
In Adams feast of words, Aphra is a poetess, playwright and former spy for King Charles II (Basil Harris) who has found herself flung into debtor's prison. But when the King returns home to London his first task is to rescue this former agent and attempt to seduce her into being one of his "kept ladies". But Aphra wants more from life than to just be kept, she wants to be a world-renowned playwright and beholden to no one. The King agrees to "keep" her but only until her career takes off and puts her up in a lovely little flat. Enter into this flat an actress, Nell (Montana von Fliss) who wants more from Aphra than to just be in her next play and William (also Harris), Aphra's former lover and fellow spy with information on a plot to kill the King. And if that weren't enough Aphra needs to finish her play for the local theater owner who just drops in making demands. Luckily Aphra's wise cracking maid has things well in hand.
At its core the play is a typical farce with people hiding behind slamming doors and Harris and von Fliss playing multiple hilarious characters, running in and out in various guises. But beyond being one of the most exciting and well thought out new farces I've seen in awhile, Adams has given her actors some of the meatiest and juiciest and yes naughtiest prose to play with. I said before that it's a feast and it is, a full seven-course feast and every bite is delectable.
And if the play is the recipe then master chef (and director) Allison Narver has assembled three of the tastiest morsels (the cast) to serve up to us. Narver keeps the pace clipping impeccably and keeps her cast at the perfect level of outrageousness mixed with sincerity to create the precise tone for the show.
And the cast, oh the cast! Potter has the audience engaged and in the palm of her hand from her first sentence and never lets us go. She turns in a thoughtful portrayal of a woman who thinks about five pages ahead of where the rest of us are. von Fliss manages a sultry portrayal of an actress who knows who she is and what she wants. That combined with her other hilariously varied characters makes her as big of a force of nature as Potter. And what can I say about Harris but BRILLIANT. One minute he's the romantic lead as the king, the next minute he's the roguish former lover and then he transforms himself into … well, I don't want to give it away. Suffice to say he practically steals the show with a character who's only on stage for a few short minutes. Or he would have stolen the show if the rest hadn't kept stealing it back. But stealing is the wrong word as this wonderful ensemble kept generously tossing the spotlight back and forth to each other creating a true collaborative effort.
Matthew Smucker has done it once again with a gorgeously practical set that is shown off beautifully by L.B. Morse's lighting. Costume designer Catherine Hunt paints a period perfect yet vibrant canvas and Christopher Walker infuses a touch of the modern with his rockin' sound design.
Not only is this a hysterical and raucous show but also gives us a strong yet sensual heroine who shows us that we are defined by our choices. And sometimes the best road is not to choose but delight in taking it all.
Photo credit: Chris Bennion