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Or,
by Liz Duffy Adams
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
February 19, 2015

Nicole Angeli, Rachel Tibbetts Photo by Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Nicole Angeli, Rachel Tibbetts
Photo by Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, one of the more daring theatre companies in St. Louis, has begun a new season with the them of “Mistaken Identity”. The first offering in this vein is Liz Duffy Adams’ Or, which explores incidents in the life of an unconventional woman in 17th Century England, as well as her famous and infamous friends.  It explores issues of identity and social acceptability, as well as artistic expression and women’s roles in society.  As usual for SATE, it’s an intriguing and very well put-together production, with a striking visual presentation and a sharp sense of comedy.

The central figure here is Aphra Behn (Rachel Tibbetts), a Restoration-era writer and onetime spy.  As one of England’s first female professional playwrights, Behn is working on a manuscript and trying to find a producer. As Behn reflects on her life and interacts with notable and memorable figures of the day, as well as important people from her past, various historical figures, business contacts, as well as lovers of both sexes–past, and present. John Wolbers and Nicole Angeli both play more than one role, with Wolbers as both King Charles II and Behn’s former colleague in espionage, and former lover, William Scot. Angeli plays Behn’s saucy maid Maria, as well as the celebrated actress Nell Gwyn, who becomes lover to both Aphra and the King.  In a unique twist, there’s another role in the play that’s alternated between two of the performers, and to determine who plays it on a given night, names are drawn out of a bowl.

This is a fast-paced, bawdy production that needs to be perfectly timed with all the quick costume and character changes.  The cast members perform with wit, energy, and utmost precision as they carry out the intricacies of the somewhat convoluted plot.  Still, while there’s a lot going on, it’s finely tuned and well-staged by director Ellie Schwetye. Tibbetts, as Behn, has perhaps the simplest job, since she only plays one character and she is onstage for most of the play, and she performs it amiably.  Angeli plays both the brash Nell and the crass Maria–as well as the “mystery role” on the night I saw it–with verve and gusto. The third cast member, Wolbers, does an excellent job of playing two very distinct characters, the grandiose and swaggering Charles, and the suspicious, anxious William. Ensemble chemistry is essential in a show like this, and all three players work extremely well together. Angeli and Wolbers are especially memorable in their scenes together as Nell and Charles.

The set is simple, as designed by Bess Moynihan to spell out the title of the play in giant letters and also provide wing space for the actors’ quick changes. Elizabeth Henning’s costumes are bold, colorful and appropriately outlandish.  It’s a small stage at the Chapel, where SATE stages most of its performances, and that familiarity has helped since they have learned to make the most of the limited space.

This is not a play for all audiences, as it’s full of crass humor and suggestive situations, although it’s hilariously entertaining for adult audiences.  It’s something of a slight plot, with a lot of action but not as much substance as it could have, but SATE has staged it well. Or, with its questions of identity and creative expression, as well as its over-the-top and meticulously executed comedy, provides for a fun, occasionally shocking, but overall entertaining evening of theatre.

John Wolbers, Nicole Angeli Photo by Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography SATE

John Wolbers, Nicole Angeli
Photo by Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography
SATE

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