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“Or,” a Sexy, Hilarious and Fitting Last Show on the Delta King for Capital Stage

Jessica Bates as Nell Gwynne, Stephanie Gularte as Alpha Behn, Jonathan Rhys Williams as Charles II

The sixties brought a lot of changes. A new government brought hope, yet an ongoing war and its associated costs brought conflict and despair. New careers were opening up for women in nontraditional jobs, and there was a new sexual freedom in the air. It was an era of loving and being sexually attracted to whoever one found attractive while sharing them with whoever also found them attractive.

“Or” celebrates all of this. Liz Duffy Adams’ hilarious play “Or” is the final play of the sixth season of Capital Stage, and their last onboard the Delta King in Old Town Sacramento. This production also brings together Capital Stage’s original founders, Stephanie Gularte, Jonathan Rhys Williams and Peter Mohrmann.

While the description of “Or” evokes thoughts of the flower power, hippie 60’s of San Francisco, It is actually set in London during the years 1666-1670. The repressive Puritan rule of Oliver Cromwell had ended and the monarchy restored with Charles II returning from exile. A controversial and expensive war over trading supremacy continued with Holland.

Adams bases her characters on several historic figures. The central character is Aphra Behn, who spied for King Charles in the Anglo-Dutch wars. Behn now wants to become a playwright, an occupation newly opened to women. Charles II has several mistresses and presses Aphra to be another She agrees to be supported by Charles so she can write her first play but with holds the “final prize” to keep him interested.  Aphra soon meets Nell Gwynne, one of London’s most popular actresses, and experiences an attraction to her. To add to all the confusion, double agent William Scott, an acquaintance from Aphra’s past life as Astrea, shows up. Scott has gone a little dodgy while in exile.

Jonathan Rhys Williams as William, Stephanie Gularte as Aphra

Attractive and sexy husband and wife actors Jonathan Rhys Williams and Stephanie Gularte play King Charles II/William Scott and Aphra Behn/Astrea. Williams’ Charles II in a long, curly black wig is witty and funny, but it is his deranged William Scott that is downright hysterical.

Stephanie Gularte as Alpha, Jonathan Rhys Williams as Charles

Gularte shines as Aphra Behn, the center of the story. There is little doubt why both men and women go crazy over her. Gularte’s Behn is truly affectionate and loving to those she likes but quite able to hold out for what she needs. What she needs most is to fulfill her destiny to be a great playwright.

Stephanie Gularte as Alpha, Jessica Bates as Nell

Jessica Bates making her Capital Stage debut rounds out the trio of actors. Primarily an East coast actress, Bates becomes wilder and crazier with each character she takes on. She starts as the gruff, foul-mouthed jailer at the debtor’s prison. Her primary character, Nell Gwynne, makes good use of the character’s androgyny and “modern woman” posing. Nell is quite happy to put the moves on Aphra.

Bates goes on to portray Behn’s over-the-top, cranky, old servant. Later, she plays an older female aristocrat. Bates’ Lady Davenant matches Williams’ William Scott for sheer hilarity.

Jonathan Rhys Williams as William Scott, Jessica Bates as Nell

The third Capital Stage founder, Peter Mohrmann, directs all this with split second timing. Jonathan Williams sometimes seems to instantly morph from one character to the other. Mohrmann has elicited performances from his actors that, in spite of all the craziness, are really very believable.

Stephen C. Jones’ minimal design of the two sets, the debtor’s prison and Aphra Behn’s room, works well. Combined with Steve Decker’s lighting design, Gail Russell’s costumes and Michael Coleman’s wigs, a true sense of the characters’ styles are achieved.

Everything comes together – the play, the acting and the staging – to create a fascinating, daring, sexy show that is also hysterically funny. The laughter started immediately and continued throughout the show. There were times that members of the audience were laughing so hard they nearly started choking.

The three founders of Capital Stage and their whole production staff have created a very fitting end of an era and farewell to “The Boat.”

 

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