Directed by Leigh Silverman
Featuring Charles Busch, Lea DeLaria, Zachary Fine, Rebecca S'manga Frank, Gibson Frazier, Shuler Hensley, Kendyl Ito, Kristolyn Lloyd, Ben Mehl, Cherie Corinne Rice, Austin Smith, Amelia Workman and more to be announced!
Sir Patient Fancy is a hypochondriac old fool with a young and beautiful second-wife Lucia. Now, if he would only stop interrupting her love affair with the dashing rake Wittmore, whom she would have married, were it not for the biggest obstacle of all: neither has any money. The theater’s first professional female playwright, Aphra Behn, delivers a delicious farce in the tradition of Moliere’s comic masterpiece, The Imaginary Invalid. With the kind of defiant women of her earlier play The Rover, and a character list that includes the likes of Lady Knowell and Sir Credulous Easy, Sir Patient Fancy was a runaway hit of the Restoration stage.
"To all the Men of Wit we will subscribe:
But for your half Wits, you unthinking Tribe,
We’ll let you see, whate’er besides we do,
How artfully we copy some of you:
And if you’re drawn to th’ Life, pray tell me then,
Why Women should not write as well as Men."
ABOUT THE PLAY
In 1660, Charles II returned from exile in France with two radical developments for the newly re-opened English theater: French neoclassicism and female performers on the stage. Theatrical tastes were changing; Jonson and Beaumont and Fletcher were the favorite revivals; Shakespeare’s “fancy” and more open dramaturgy were less popular because Restoration audiences demanded an extremely realistic depiction of their society, defined by the aristocratic culture of the court.
The prime example of this new realism, the introduction of the female performer, changed the very nature of spectatorship. The popularity of breeches roles in Restoration theater sprang from a very different impulse from that of the earlier
all-male performance tradition. Now the interest was in seeing the legs of real women on stage, as well as more abundant fleshly exposures glimpsed during scenes of quite explicit sexuality — witness Lady Fancy and Isabella in “disordered” states of undress. The female body became an object of intense interest in its own right — both onstage and backstage — and created a new climate of celebrity for female performers, whose abilities as actresses often took second place to their status as cultural curiosities.
Behn fashioned Sir Patient Fancy (1678) after Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid (1673), following some of the familiar patterns of classic comedy — the obstructing father who works against the proper pairing of young lovers, and who, in marrying a young wife, deserves to be cuckolded — but presents very different assumptions about love and sexuality, politics and religion. Adulterous love, pro-royalist and anti-Puritan sentiment, and the celebration of wit and imagination drive the thematic design. When Lady Fancy, the alpha wit of the play, is about to be caught in flagrante by her obtuse husband, she exclaims: “But now to be found out would call my wit in question, for ’tis the fortunate alone are wise.”
Behn gives a nod to Molière’s satire of the medical profession, but her real interest lies in the glorification of the royalist cause embodied in the adulterous lovers, Lady Fancy and her Tory gallant, Wittmore, who happens to be the most attractive man around. Sir Patient is ridiculed less for his hypochondria than for his politics, religion and status as a cuckold. He is the embodiment of the Whiggish ‘Cit’— old, rich, physically repellent, anti-crown, a Puritan dissenter — and he undergoes a spectacular reversal, renouncing his religion and politics, forgiving his wife, and embracing his new-found status as cuckold: “Nay, I’m so changed from what I was, that I think I could even approve of monarchy and church-discipline, as I’m so truly convinced I have been a beast and an ass all my life.” Far from being punished for her infidelity, Lady Fancy gets everything she wants: her lover, her husband's money, and his acceptance of the ongoing ménage à trois. His “restoration” complete, Sir Patient joins Behn’s favored class of characters: royalists, adulterers, and wits.
By the end of the period, Puritan reaction sets in against Restoration “immorality” and court culture becomes more bourgeois, leading to the sentimental comedy of the 18th century. We won’t see a revival of laughing comedy until Goldsmith and Sheridan in the 1770s, and perhaps only one time since, with Oscar Wilde.
FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT
"To the Reader"
I Printed this Play with all the impatient haste one ought to do, who would be vindicated from the most unjust and silly aspersion, Woman could invent to cast on Wo∣man; and which only my being a Woman has procured me; That it was Baudy, the least and most Excusable fault in the Men writers, to whose Plays they all crowd, as if they came to no other end then to hear what they condemn in this: but from a Woman it was unnaturall: but how so Cruell an unkind∣ness came into their imaginations I can by no means guess; un∣less by those whose Lovers by long absence, or those whom Age or Ugliness have rendered a little distant from those things they would fain imagin here — But if such as these durst profane their Chast ears with hearing it over again, or taking it into their serious Consideration in their Cabinets; they would find nothing that the most innocent Virgins can have cause to blush at: but confess with me that no Play either Ancient or Mo∣dern has less of that Bug-bear Bawdry in it. Others to show their breeding (as Bays sayes,) cryed it was made out of at least four French Plays, when I had but a very bare hint from one, the Malad Imagenere, which was given me translated by a Gentle∣man infinitely to advantage: but how much of the French is in this, I leave to those who do indeed understand it and have seen it at the Court. The Play had no other Misfortune but that of coming out for a Womans: had it been owned by a Man, though the most Dull Unthinking Rascally Scribler in Town, it had been a most admirable Play. Nor does it's loss of Fame with the Ladies do it much hurt, though they ought to have had good Nature and justice enough to have attributed all its faults to the Authours unhappiness, who is forced to write for Bread and not ashamed to owne it, and consequently ought to write to please (if she can) an Age which has given severall proofs it was by this way of writing to be obliged, though it is a way too cheap for men of wit to pursue, who write for Glory, and a way which even I despise as much below me.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Aphra Behn (1640-89), the first professional female playwright, led a tumultuous and colorful life, both in and out of the theater. She left England soon after the restoration of Charles II for the South American colony of Surinam, which provided the setting for her novel, Oronooko; or, The Royal Slave, which in turn was adapted for the stage and remained popular throughout the 18th century. Returning to England, she may have entered into a fictitious marriage with someone named Behn, but by the mid-1660s she was serving the crown as a spy in Antwerp during the Dutch invasion of Surinam. On her return to England she was thrown into debtors’ prison and appealed to the government for her back wages. After 1670, however, she emerged as a famous and influential poet and playwright, part of the elite milieu surrounding the court. Her best known plays are The Rover, The City Heiress, and The Feigned Courtesans, which was dedicated to her friend (and the King’s mistress) the actress Nell Gwynn. Behn was re-discovered, in a sense, by Virginia Woolf’s famous 1918 essay A Room of One’s Own: “… all women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”