Not much is known about Aphra Behn, England's first female professional playwright.
Between 1670 and 1689, she wrote 15 plays, of which The Rover (1677) is probably the most famous. That time was a fertile one for English theatre; after the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, London theatres were reopened and enjoyed a new wave of innovation and popularity.
Like many Restoration comedies, The Rover takes a frank approach to sex and sexual negotiation; what propriety there is operates along class distinctions. It follows the tried-and-true neoclassical romantic-comedy structure; like so much of Shakespeare, the comedy and the intrigue both stem from mistaken identity. The Rover navigates the sexual misadventures of a roving band of Englishmen during Carnevale in 1563 Naples. Like frat boys at Fort Lauderdale on spring break, they are intent on drunken merriment and wreaking havoc. Gradually their efforts concentrate on the seduction of Florinda (Dana Bennison) and her sister Hellena (Sarah Howe). Florinda is in love with the English captain, Belville (Kevin Molesworth); Hellena, disguised as a gypsy, begins a flirtation with Willmore (Peter Husovsky), his sidekick. But Florinda and Hellena can only marry with their brother Pedro's approval, and naturally, he does not approve of the English.
Along the way, there are disguises, dances, and plenty of drinking and whoring and cavorting, as befitting a Neopolitan Carnevale. There's also real honest-to-God swordfighting (with excellent fight choreography by Mark James Schryver). Willmore is the sort of charming rogue who cannot lay eyes on a woman without falling in love with her. He gets mixed up with Angelica (Melinda Farrarracio), an expensive courtesan, and when he cannot pay her price, she vows revenge. Willmore's compatriot, Ned Blunt (Matthew Morgan), has also fallen in love with a whore, but she steals his clothes and his money and kicks him out into the street. So everyone is chasing, or running from, nearly everyone else, in disguise half the time. Eventually, Belville manages to wed Florinda on the sly, Willmore is seduced by Hellena's fortune and agrees to settle down and marry her, and Pedro (Joe Plummer) approves of all.
The Rover is certainly one of the best plays of this period, and Brass Tacks Theatre Company's production did it justice. What the evening lacked in panache it made up for (and then some) with enthusiasm. It was the barest of productions; the large empty black stage was adorned with only a multilevel black platform (Vincent A. Masterpaul), but it left plenty of room for the large and energetic cast.
The acting was the best part of the production. Peter Husovsky was a standout as Willmore. Matthew Morgan was hysterical as Ned Blunt, who was reduced to near-nudity for much of the show. Dana Bennison and Sarah Howe were perfectly convincing as Florinda and Hellena, innocent enough to fear marriage but experienced enough to want a young, sexy husband rather than an old, rich one. The fake Italian and Spanish accents were a bit of a distraction, but not enough to hinder the action. Director Lisa Jackson had clearly done her research; the actors were perfectly comfortable in the world of 16th-century Naples, and more importantly, they were comfortable with the language.
All in all, The Rover was thoroughly enjoyable. It was a shame it didn't have a longer run.
Also with Chant Macleod, Clint Newman, Jennifer Saltzstein, Matt Schuneman, Brian Morvant, Kelley McKinnon, Mark Gindick, and Laura Corrigan
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Copyright 2003 Jenny Sandman