Opening Nights: Or,

An androgynous romp through Restoration theater.

Smart, silly, and sexy, Liz Duffy Adams' pseudo-Restoration comedy is based, very loosely, on the life of Aphra Behn (1640–1689), considered England's first professional female playwright. Her career coincided with the restoration of King Charles II, prompting a pleasure-fest after decades of dour Puritan rule, which had closed the theaters. Director Allison Narver celebrates the dual thrills of artistic productivity and sensuality, supported by costume and sound choices that, as in a music video, use color and beat to ratchet up the passion. Sometimes the effect is unintentionally dorky instead of smooth (a tossed feather that doesn't quite launch, a skirt caught in a door, etc.), but the mishaps mar none of the charms.

Aphra (likable and bodacious Kirsten Potter) has a hybrid engine that runs on libido and creativity: Her quill pen can't keep up with her ideas while scribbling. Nor can her body keep up with her intrigues while shoving lovers and husbands into closets. While spying for Charles II (delicious Basil Harris, in a Breck-commercial wig), whom she adores but doesn't dare mate with for fear of "a royal bastard," she meets actress Nell Gwynne (Montana von Fliss), who stirs almost as much lust in her, but without the risk. Another real historical figure, Nell is played half Gaga and half Snooki. Showcased in androgynous glam finery by Catherine Hunt, she drives Aphra into a netherspace between absolutes, where pleasure can dwell without the tyranny of yes/no decisions. The shifting hues of L.B. Morse's background lighting might support that thesis, but to me it was more of a distraction. Christopher Walker's sound design is more obvious, e.g., behind-door sex accompanied by "Bang a Gong (Get It On)."

Delivered rapidly in well-honed accents, Adams' 2009 comedy combines a lightweight tone (rhymed couplets) with historical detail (studying Restoration politics before you go wouldn't hurt). In its funniest scenes, Harris and von Fliss double as other characters—notably Harris' hulking Lady Davenant, who manipulates her mouth like a Möbius strip while unwittingly cracking inside-theater jokes ("I won't have one of those Or titles"). Von Fliss is also a hoot at the gigantic-reared maid Mariah, who's pathologically untormented by indecision. But these are sideshows to the horny, artsy trio—who always take Or, back to the boudoir.

 
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