England’s buoyant Restoration era carried a welcome blast of optimism, hedonism and artistic freedom — and so does the latest production by Fort Lauderdale’s ambitious Thinking Cap Theatre. These heady, post-Puritanical days under the reign of Charles II — restored to the throne after an exile courtesy of Oliver Cromwell — are the setting for Liz Duffy Adams’ amusing, bawdy satire Or, given a lively, entertaining treatment by Thinking Cap.
Or focuses on the sparkling career of real-life poet and playwright Aphra Behn, Britain’s first female playwright to earn a living through her writing (she also worked as a spy for Charles in Belgium). Adams imagines Behn (played by Niki Fridh) as a freethinking lover of men and women, but Or is not a character study. It’s an energetic, full-blown farce that cheerfully skewers the theater and its denizens, running a brisk 80 minutes with no intermission. It’s a fine, smart diversion for anyone with a taste for historical comedy.
Aside from its opening scene, in which Aphra plots her way out of debtor’s prison, the play takes place over the course of one extraordinarily busy evening. Aphra must finish her latest work while negotiating the whims and desires of her latest romantic possibility, the androgynous actress Nell Gwynne. A swiftly approaching deadline looms, laid down by Lady Mary Davenant, manager of a theater company, who wants that new play tomorrow or else she won’t produce it.
Aphra must also juggle a visit from her secret patron, the jolly, lusty but demanding Charles, as well as a sudden appearance by her ex lover and fellow spy William Scot, who’s being hunted down as a traitor by Charles’ men and may have news about a plot against the king.
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Thinking Cap’s production makes the most of the play’s farcical elements, with characters dashing in and out of various stage doors with gusto and impeccable timing (the set design by Alyiece Moretto is simple but extremely effective for these rapid entrances and exits).
As Aphra, Fridh is as loose and funny here as she was restrained and creepy in Thinking Cap’s fall production of A Map of Virtue. Betsy Graver, who also doubles as a jailer and Aphra’s cranky servant Maria, is a sly and practical Nell, who complains one moment that everyone thinks she’s a prostitute, then happily agrees to sell herself for the right price the next.
The most delightful moments, though, belong to the hilarious triple threat Alex Alvarez, who plays the ribald Charles, the cunning William and the bossy Lady Davenant, whose over-the-top appearance is the highlight of the show. Showing off the period costumes by director Nicole Stodard, Alvarez is a dynamic comedic presence, one of the many elements that makes a visit to this hopeful kingdom worth a visit.
If You Go
What: ‘Or’ by Liz Duffy Adams
Where: Thinking Cap Theatre at the Vanguard, Southwest 15th Street, Fort Lauderdale
When: Through March 5; Thursday-Saturday 8 p.m.; Sunday 5 p.m.; also 8 p.m. Wednesday March 2
Tickets: $35; thinkingcaptheatre.com