BETHESDA — “Or,” a suffix of binary implications barely qualifies as a phrase. Yet the new play at the Round House Theatre about playwright and former spy Aphra Behn takes the meaning of this word to its full extent.
“Or,” written by Liz Duffy Adams takes place in Restoration Era England when Behn, played by Holly Twyford, abandons her espionage career to become a writer under the new government of Charles II.
Meanwhile, her former life catches up as she is caught between a longstanding relationship with the King and her former partner William Scott, both played by Gregory Linington, as well as new friends in the acting field.
The play gives a background on the revolutionary ideas of the Restoration Era while the set and language echo the 1960s hippie movement. Women’s liberation is a major idea in the play when Behn and the tomboyish actor Nell Gwynne (Erin Weaver) discuss the new age that they are entering.
Meanwhile, sexual freedom defines the relationships between Behn, Gwynne, and Charles II. Hedonism is markedly present in this play as Behn and the other characters love freely and intertwine their relationships.
The play is comprised of seven characters played by three people. This characteristic is the defining comedic element as Weaver and Linington switch rapidly between their respective roles, emphasizing the craziness of Behn juggling her past and current life.
The speed that the actors change their costumes and their roles is at times so fast that it seems illusionary. One moment Behn is shoving Linington as William Scott into a wardrobe, only for him to casually stroll into the room as Charles II, fully dressed in royal clothing.
Erin Weaver steals the show in her three roles as the foul-mouthed and lascivious Nell Gwynne, the tough, elderly tenant owner Maria, and the rapid-talking Lady Davenant. Her delight at being hooked up with Charles II seems genuine as she gossips with Behn (while shooting dirty looks at Scott, amusingly played by Linington as his other character supposedly sleeps in the other room).
Her most impressive moment in the play is when she plays Lady Davenant, in which she has a five-minute monologue ranting to Behn about the coming play and any random thought that pops into her head. The satire of the name of the play is evident here as Davenant tells Behn not to give the play two titles suffixed by the word “or”: “Just pick one name and stick with it!”
Paige Hathaway’s set allows the comedic drama to unfold by connecting the door to the hallway, the bedroom door, and the wardrobe to the same backstage area. This design makes the rapid role-switching possible, treating the audience to a magic show of sorts to see how quickly Linington and Weaver can switch their characters.
The play brings interesting historical ideas about the Restoration Era’s new ideas to the forefront while giving an appreciatory nod to the lesser-known contribution of Aphra Behn as a feminist icon. The comedy of the play is taken to its fullest possibilities with the masterful acting and comfortable relationship between Twyford, Linington, and Weaver.
“Or,” is now playing through May 7 at the Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway Bethesda, MD 20814. Reserve tickets at www.roundhousetheatre.org or call (240) 644-1100.