Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Or," : ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

The modestly dressed 17th century beauty (Natacha Roi) walks onto stage and begins a soliloquy in Elizabethan English:

"...our play will shortly ricochet between
A dense array of seeming opposites:
Spy or poetess, actress or whore
Male or female, straight or gay -- or both..."

Aha, we say, we are back in Restoration England. And then she says:

"O! Fire exits! There and there, all right?
Are your cell phones off? Yes? Very good.
Compose yourselves for pleasure, if you will.
Cue the lights, let never time stand still."

And off we go into one of the most delightful, intelligent and witty shows we have seen in ages. Liz Duffy Adams's "Or," with that tiny title, roars huge onto the crackerbox stage at the Magic Theater. The three actors command our attention as they act out a farce written in the King's English but with clear nods to our present day of real and imagined horrors. Plus f-bombs.

Loretta Greco is a really good director. Characters pop in and out of scenes and costumes. Actors play multiple roles. The bounder hides in an armoire but reappears as the King of England. The pace never stalls.

Natacha Roi is the center, as writer Aphra Benn, who longs for happiness but always has just one more line to finish first. Her two love interests, King Charles II and vagabond William Scott, are played with relish by Ben Huber. The King is as sensitive as the bounder is desperate. Charles has not yet been able to score the final goal with Aphra, but her new friend, actress Nell Gwynne (Maggie Mason), is more than happy to stand in -- actually, lie in -- for Aphra.

Maggie Mason slays us. She kills us. (She also murders William Scott.) In her four roles as the jailer, Nell Gwynne, Lady Davenant and Aphra's lady-in-waiting Maria, Mason continually manages to exit one scene just long enough to wiggle into her next costume and return to the stage as her new character, guns blazing.

If you're wondering about the not-exactly-euphonious title, it comes from what Lady Davenant, the prospective buyer of Aphra Benn's still-to-be-completed new play, councils Aphra against doing:

"...I won't have one of those "or" titles, you know what I mean, one of those greedy get-it-all-in titles, 'the something something' OR 'what you something'...make up your mind and pick one, thank you."

OK, we did. It's called "Or,."


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Or," Four Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. Liz Duffy Adams gets one star pinned to her bodice for brilliant writing, the three actors split the second and third stars, and Loretta Greco and the entire production team, including costumer Alex Jaeger and Set Designer Michael Locher takes home the fourth. The extra BANGLE of PRAISE is for the brilliant way Miss Roi is put into her gown at the opening of the show. The techies become part of the performance -- one more way this show touches us in an intimate way.

What a cast, what a writer, what a show.

Magic Theatre
Fort Mason Center, Bldg. D, San Francisco
Through December 5
$20-$60 (There is a Pay What You Can Night, and also inexpensive side seats, which in this theater are excellent.)

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