The Setup: Using the proto-feminist, real-life playwright, novelist, and royal spy Aphra Behn (Stephanie Holladay Earl) as inspiration, playwright Liz Duffy Adams spins a provocative tale in which headstrong Behn, lowlife actress Nell Gwynne (Jessica Boone) and randy King Charles (Patrick D. Earl) share their lives and each other's beds.
The Execution: Or, is a fine play. A wonderfully ing farce, it's so solidly entertaining, we yearn for more from Adams. She puts a cheeky, sexy spin on England's Restoration -- when Charles II returned from exile, rousted Cromwell's Puritans, and "restored" the monarchy -- and imbues that licentious period with a contemporary wash of sensual abandon and eye-opening frankness.
Adams's characters collide in a marvelous swirl of love, sex, theatrical commitment and political intrigue, all while speaking in a most haunting, pseudo-authentic style, peppered with anachronisms to keep everything up to date. To boost the farce quotient, the actors run out of the room and hide in closets, then enter minutes later as someone else. Patrick Earl is kept busy in the roles of Charles, a jailer, and opportunistic spy William Scott; while Boone appears first as jaunty Prologue, Nell, Aphra's loyal servant Maria, and flighty theater impresario Lady Davenant, who could have popped in from a play by Sheridan or Wilde. The play keeps rising: in interest, theme and humor, and always keeps us completely mesmerized. How will Aphra balance her new lover Nell with Charles, a former fling hot and eager to resume the affair? And what about William, another former lover who attempts to blackmail Aphra and ruin her chance as a playwright? If Charles enjoys the considerable charms of Nell, what becomes of Aphra? And Lady Davenant demands Aphra's new play tomorrow morning, if only to occupy the actors so they won't turn to drink or debauchery. Adams's play merrily hops along, constantly amusing us with wisdom and warm wit. She turns history's dry textbook into an inviting personal tale, full of contemporary relevance.
The Verdict: "Variety is the soul of pleasure," Behn said in her popular play The Rover. If so, then Adams, director Troy Scheid, and the marvelous actors please us greatly.
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(Through March 20. Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706)