Yeah, or not.
For most of the way through Or, the Theatre Prometheus show going on now until August 17 at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, I thought it was amiable mayhem — a frayed if well-meaning look at the real-life Aphra Behn, bisexual former-spy-turned-playwright in Restoration-era England. But somewhere around the fourth or fifth too-much-dead-air costume change (with one lover stashed in the cupboard and another squirreled away in the bedroom), it became clear that this cast and crew was having way more fun than their audience. You want actors to enjoy themselves on stage, but the feeling should be contagious, not embarrassing. And they have to earn it first.
When we first meet Behn (Dina Soltan, generally keeping her dignity intact) she’s locked in a debtors’ prison, bargaining for ink to write letters pleading for help. And help arrives in the form of the king himself (sure), who not only frees Behn, but sets her up in London to thank her for her espionage work. Charles (Peter Mikhail is done few favors by the script or blocking) also makes a pass or two at Aphra, but she’s too independent-minded to take the bait. In her comfy new digs, she flirts and compares notes with orange-seller-cum-It-Girl-theatre-actress Nell Gwyn (Zoe Walpole is suitably saucy, but, like the other two, she makes you want to see her in something else).
But oh no! A former lovah who’d been presumed dead (also Mikhail, for no real reason other than to make it more farcical) is back with demands and rumors of a Catholic assassination plot against Charles — and on the very same day that a rich theatre patron duchess (Mikhail yet again, and this is where things really come off the rails) is offering a life-changing commission, due the very next morning, of course.
The chaos piles pretty high pretty quickly. If it were compelling, it wouldn’t matter that’s unbelievable; if it were believable, it would be more compelling.
Director Chelsea Radigan and writer Liz Duffy Adams obviously love their characters and their performers, though it’s not clear why. Their love of the English language and strong, queer women makes more sense, and carries over better.
As with an actual 17th century play, the dialogue mixes verse, rhyme and straight prose, and the story ties up far too neatly in the end. I don’t, however, foresee people performing this one in 300 years.