Review by Danny Gaisin
The book was written 3⅓ centuries ago, but the appropriateness and impact of Aphra Behn’s satire still carries both message and humour for today’s audience; especially as directed by Melee Hutton and presented by Theatre Erindale. We laughed, we applauded the actors; we appreciated the clever dialogue and even participated in the on-stage shenanigans and plot convolutions. It is certainly a challenge for the actors and UTM’s students manage the task with aplomb.
Photo by Jim Smagata
The play takes place in Naples circa 1660 revolving around Carnival. Social mores liberated (slightly) by the Restoration from Cromwell’s Puritanism enabled a mild form of women’s liberation and sanctioned a subtle form of satire or parody of the era’s traditions, values and principles. The ladies win, but so do their men. Finagling, mischief, misrepresentation and manoeuvring are the utilizers that must be exploited by the females; the gentlemen can simply draw their swords.The plot deals with men desiring women; with distaffs also looking for a little action. Then there’s the parameters of society which should be followed, but must be circumvented if one is to get ‘any’.
There are at least five liaisons that are incorporated into a convoluted scenario. From cavaliers to servants; and virginal ladies to hookers; the couples are stereotypically representative of all class levels. To detail any of these relationships would spoil what is a super comedy with complexities ‘up the wazoo’. Fun to see and fast-paced with almost nary a vocal slip-up means it’s a tough job for any critical scribe to not come off sounding like a publicity hack! The adaptation by Patrick Young & Nancy Copeland add contemporaneous connotation while Hutton’s attention to such minutiae as stance and especially facial expression makes the Olde English dialogue not only flow but is comprehensible. We found it easier to follow and grasp than a lot of Shakespeare’s.
The large cast is universally impeccable with utterly NO weak characterizations. However, there are a few outstanding thespians on who future audiences should keep an eagle eye. Even when strictly in an observer role, Nicholas Potter’s ‘Captain Willmore’ has such a mobile face as to be the equal of Groucho Marx. He demonstrates a horniness that even outshines Sheen’s character in “2½ Men”. The clown-like situation portrayed by Even Williams’ “Blunt” will give a visceral response to anyone, male or female, who has ever been the ‘goat’ in a situation… even this writer has suffered through a few over my lifetime! On the distaff side, the two sisters; Eliza Martin & Eilish Waller both depict qualities of attractiveness, fortitude and even feminine ‘wilery’ that are tangential rather than the same side of the coin… great acting; super direction.
The professional-slut with a heart of gold is interpreted by Chiamaka G. Ugwu and she’s also the model for the playbill. She’s a looker; she’s certainly no sleaze and credibly worth the big bucks her favors demand. The Act III scene where she comes across Potter lusting after Martin’s character can only be described as a pure epitomic “Oh Shit” moment.
The costumes are delicious; the swordplay realistic; and the sound/light/stage-set effects are unadulterated enhancements. The modern subtleties, especially the asides and digital gestures all set up the necessary attitude for the audience to seriously vote on a plot conclusion. As one character succinctly states, “Let love and Fortune do their worst”…a philosophy for all of us to live by.
The Rover and his vessel will be docked at Theatre Erindale until Mar. 23rd, come on out and get aboard.