Review: Liz Duffy Adams' 'Or,' celebrates dubious glories of being playwright

From left to right, Andy Paris and Maggie Siff perform in "Or," a play by Liz Duffy Adams running off-Broadway at the Women's Project in New York. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Bruce Cohen Public Relations, Carol Rosegg)

NEW YORK - Sex, booze and poetry in the Restoration-era 17th century might have been almost as heady as the 1960s combination of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

So thinks playwright Liz Duffy Adams, in her fast-paced, new, three-actor farce, titled "Or," premiering off-Broadway at Women's Project. Adams wittily combines historical information with frequent jokes about playwrights' obsession with their work.

She frames it all in the context of the difficulties faced by independent women like Aphra Behn, who used her considerable wit and feminine wiles to gain the financial protection of wealthy patrons.

A poet and alleged libertine, Behn followed up a successful career as a spy for England with larger ambitions. In Adam's ironic words, Behn vows, "I will know a godlike eternal fame. I will be a playwright."

The alleged glories of being a playwright are lovingly lampooned, as the door-slamming, farcical action unfolds during a couple of eventful days in Behn's busy life

Maggie Siff ("Mad Men," "Sons of Anarchy") is playfully self-mocking as Behn, inhabiting her leading role with gusto. A heady combination of sensuality, brains and power permeates her performance. Such is her love of writing, Behn postpones enjoyment of the royal favours offered by King Charles II when, at the same time, she gets a commission to write a play. At another critical juncture, when informed of a possible plot to assassinate the king, Behn distractedly says, "Damn the plot, a production's at stake!"

With a wink and a nod - actually, many winks - two other actors play multiple roles, as Behn's writing is interrupted by a stream of unexpected visitors. Time-honoured slapstick routines are employed with evident enjoyment by all.

Andy Paris performs admirably as both a liberal Charles and as a possible double-agent. He adds a bit of cross-dressing fun in an exaggerated portrayal of a wealthy female arts patron, who commands Behn to write a play overnight.

Paris and the ladies clearly enjoy repeating the obvious routine of bundling him into a cupboard so he can quickly change clothing and emerge seconds later, via an adjacent doorway, as a different character.

Kelly Hutchinson plays several other parts in the same lighthearted spirit, including the famous actress Nell Gwynne and Behn's surly maid. Gwynne arrives to meet this new playwright disguised as a boy, the better to travel unmolested through the streets. The two women soon realize they share sensual, free-spirited leanings - which Charles hopes to capitalize upon, if Behn ever finishes this play.

Director Wendy McClellan keeps the Restoration-era shenanigans light and lively in tone. Adams has written period-faithful, rhyming couplets for some of the dialogue, and her characters enjoying testing one another's ability to rhyme on the spot. An elegantly spare set designed by Zane Pihlstrom, and colourful, nicely-detailed costumes by Andrea Lauer enhance the romantic look of the production.

In her real-life poetry, Behn vowed to "laugh at love and fate." Adams and this wonderful cast have certainly done the same with this delightful comedy.

"Or," is in a limited engagement through Nov. 22.