MONDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2017 AT 7:30 PM
Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher St.)
Adapted by John Barton and the RSC
Further adapted by Joanne Akalaitis and Kathleen Dimmick
Directed by Louisa Proske
Featuring Valorie Curry, Kelley Curran, Matthew Rauch, Christopher Innvar, Nadine Malouf, Stephen Plunkett, Manoel Felciano, Julia Coffey, Edward O'Blenis, KeiLyn Durrel Jones, Jessica Love, Rebecca S'manga Frank, Michael Attias, Lucas Dixon and Howard Overshown
It’s Spain, during carnival, and anything can and does happen. Two Spanish sisters don masks and take to the streets, one to reunite with her true love, the other to find a man and evade her fate at the nunnery. Enter a trio of English rakes looking for kicks, and we get raucous and raunchy Restoration comedy at its best. From the pen of the first professional female playwright comes a play that challenges 17th-century notions of marriage, while asking timeless questions of sexual politics. How far will women go to follow their hearts’ desire? And just how badly can men behave before they have to put a ring on it?
The OBIE Award-Winning Revelation Readings series provides a unique opportunity to hear rarely-produced classic plays performed by many of the finest actors in New York. Casting subject to change.
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.”
ABOUT the PLAY
Willmore: I can teach thee to weave a true Love’s knot better.
Hellena: So can my Dog.
In 1660, Charles II returned from France with two radical developments for the English theater: French neoclassicism and female performers on the stage. Audience tastes were changing; Jonson and Beaumont and Fletcher were the favorite revivals; Shakespeare’s “fancy” and more open dramaturgy were less popular because Restoration drama is extremely realistic -- it’s a mirror image of society.
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 actual legs of real women on stage — Hellena in her cute boy outfit — along with the many opportunities for revealing disheveled décolletage during scenes of quite explicit sexual pursuit — the two (!) attempted rapes of Florinda. 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, not unlike the Madonna phenomenon of 1980s.
The Rover (1677) follows Restoration dramatic conventions: sexual dalliance (enabled by Carnival disguises) becomes marriage, though marriage seen only in economic terms — women are discussed in terms of their fortune — and sex/marriage becomes a game of wit and imagination that both can play. The wit resides in the very action of the play itself — in the midst of a busy plot, the two major reversals spin on verbal play: Willmore finally agrees to Hellena’s insistence on marriage because he is defeated by her wit.
This theatricalized language of morality underlies the game structure of Restoration comedy and embodies the diffidence that masks a deep concern with personal liberty: to fall in love is to lose power over the love object. This is the fate of the courtesan Angellica Bianca, who is ejected from the play because she commits the cardinal error of falling in love with Willmore and confessing her love without the distancing charms of wit. To preserve the private self from the prison of definition entails absolute freedom of choice — liberty is the key commitment. At the end of the play, when all the couples are appropriately joined (with the exception of Blunt, who, as a fool, lacks the wit necessary to negotiate sexual desire), Hellena, (like Millimant in Congreve’s The Way of the World), refuses to seal her contract with a kiss because that would reduce her to a cliché. It’s a profoundly serious point: she refuses to betray her commitment to the integrity of the self -- this is the essence of the Restoration personality.
By the end of the period, Puritan reaction sets in against Restoration “immorality;” 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: the true person is the one inside, who poses and postures for the outside world.
During the exile of Charles II, three banished cavaliers — “The Rover” Willmore, his friends Belvile and Frederick, and Ned Blunt, a country squire — meet in Spain during Carnival. Florinda is in love with Belvile but her father intends her to marry the elderly Don Vincentio, and her brother, Don Pedro, intends her for his own friend, Don Antonio, the viceroy’s son. Hellena, reluctantly preparing to become a nun, plans with their cousin Valeria to disguise themselves, join in the Carnival celebrations and look for men; Florinda hopes to find Belvile.
As the couples meet and flirt, Antonio and Pedro fight over the charms of the famous courtesan Angellica Bianca, who is demanding a thousand crowns for her favors; in the midst of the melee, she spots the dashing but impoverished Willmore and chooses him to receive her love, gratis. She becomes wildly jealous when she later finds him courting Hellena in her Carnival disguise. Meanwhile, Florinda has arranged to meet Belvile at night in her garden, but before his arrival she is attacked by the drunken Willmore. Florinda’s screams wake the household, putting an end to the lovers’ plans.
The deliciously complex plot continues with mistaken identities, betrayals, and further assaults on Florinda’s virtue and ends with Angellica scorned, Florinda and Belvile united, and Willmore defeated even unto marriage by the power of Hellena’s Wit