A Conversation with OR, playwright Liz Duffy Adams

2016-2017 Season, Or, Play

OR, – a play about Restoration era playwright Aphra Behn – opens the 2016 season of the Southwest Shakespeare Company on September 2, 2016 and, yes, you are right. This wasn’t written by the Stratford Bard himself.  The playwright is Liz Duffy Adams and here she opens up about her play and why she wrote it.

Understand, however, Aphra Behn is an extraordinary woman of the 1660s. A spy at a time when women did not do such things. A playwright when women did not do that either. A personal friend of England’s monarch (well, women did do that).

In this play, our heroine has an opportunity to get a play produced in London but the catch is she has to finish it tonight.  There is the play’s action.

Here, by the way, is what the San Jose Mercury News had to say about OR,.

The Oregonian weighs in here.

Christopher Isherwood in the New York Times said this.

The San Francisco production won raves.

Read on for what the playwright says.

*           We have to ask: why is the comma part of the title?

Adams: It’s in reference to old double-barreled titles like Twelfth Night or, What You Will, or Behn’s own The Rover or, The Banish’d Cavaliers. I had been thinking about giving it one of those sorts of titles, but after all, as Lady Davenant points out in the play, they are cumbersome! Then I had the idea of just keeping the “or,” from the middle, which is thematically perfect. As for the comma, there is commonly (though not always) one after the “or,” and keeping it seemed apt.

*           How did you become acquainted with Aphra Behn?

Adams: A friend years ago asked me to write an original verse prologue for a production of The Rover she was directing. I’d never read Behn, so I started and kept going—read pretty much all the plays, her novel, some poetry, and a couple of biographies—and found her fascinating. I then wrote a ten-minute play about her in rhyming couplets (Aphra Does Antwerp; it’s on Playscripts.com if anyone is curious) and started thinking about a full-length.

*           What relevance does Restoration England have to 21st century America?

This is something I like to leave the audience to intuit as they will. I will say, the Restoration was a time of immense change and hope, an explosion of new ideas in science and the arts, a time when, at least among artistic, philosophical, and aristocratic circles, the historical pendulum between freedom and repression had swung away from Puritanism and toward a more expansive view of relative autonomy for women, and freedom in love and sex. When I was writing it, I was hoping that we may be swinging back toward a worldview in which love and idealism are virtues and the arts are celebrated as central to civilized life.

*           What do you hope the audience walks out thinking?

I wouldn’t want to prescribe what an audience may think, but I hope they are thinking, and feeling, and talking about Aphra, and what the play said to them. I hope they leave feeling enlivened and stimulated and engaged with the experience.

*           Can you envision a revival of interest in doing Behn’s own plays?

Luckily she has not been entirely forgotten, at least in recent decades, and in any given season you may see one or two productions somewhere in the country. But I would love to see a wider revival, indeed, and it would not surprise me!

*           The play is a three actor vehicle, with one actress playing Aphra and two others playing many parts. Why is it important that two actors play multiple roles?

Partly it’s so I could have extra characters without extra actors, making it more likely to be produced. But I couldn’t have done it if it didn’t feel theatrically justified. On one, non-literal, level, it’s as though Aphra is writing the play as she’s inhabiting it, using just two people as her ‘actors’ swirling around her. And ultimately it’s just hugely fun for the audience to watch the virtuosity and rapid changes of those two.

*           If OR, were a Shakespeare play, where would it fit into the body of work? Is it history, comedy, or a “problem” play (a la The Tempest)? 

I think Or, is closer in spirit to the Restoration than Elizabethan theater. But if it were a Shakespeare play, I think it would be an experiment on his part: an amalgam of history, comedy, and definitely problem!