Olympia Little Theatre’s “Or,” opening this week, is set in the 1660s during the reign of Charles II, when women were first permitted to perform on the British stage.
While most of the characters are historical figures, Liz Duffy Adams’s 2009 farce echoes not only the Restoration, but a much more familiar era: the 1960s.
“People were fighting repression, challenging the norms,” said Toni Holm, the show’s director. “Women refused to stay in their box. Arts were flourishing, and people could speak and love as they pleased.”
The play takes liberties with the lives of Aphra Behn (J Benway), Britain’s first recognized female playwright; actress Nell Gwynne (Shannon Agostinelli) and the king himself (John Tuttle), imagining a love triangle and playing with gender-bending. Adams throws in 1960s slang and blank verse.
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Holm, who admits to nostalgia for the ’60s, wanted to have fun with that mix of eras.
“We’re not hewing to any particular era,” she said. “It’s speaking to everything.”
“We’re mixing and matching ages, and we know it,” said costume designer Diana Purvine. “We’re letting ourselves run a little wild.”
Purvine took costume inspiration from Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Iron Butterfly and The Beatles, in particular the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover.
Gwynne, for example, is dressed in pumpkin breeches — puffy short pants made with contrasting fabric — made from a pattern drafted by a costumer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and a doublet made from a pattern based on an Elizabethan original.
“Instead of the traditional fabrics, the doublet is lime green with hot pink and gold butterflies and flowers,” Purvine said.
The actors, other than Benway, play multiple characters, and one who pops up briefly is theater owner Lady Davenant, who’ll be dressed in the mode of the 1760s with an elaborate wig decorated with feathers, little figures and even a boat.
The set features playful touches.
“There’s a wardrobe that people keep getting stuffed in,” Holm said. “The outside is Restoration style, and the inside is purple with gold paisley.”
With all the fun, the play makes a serious point about tolerance and acceptance.
“That’s the thing that resonates with me with 1960s: The idea of love,” she said.
And though it’s a comic costume farce — the kind of light-hearted show Olympia Little Theatre frequently produces — “Or,” is also rooted in the history of the Restoration, and at least some of its scandalous details are historically accurate. Gwynne and Charles were lovers, and Behn acted as a spy for the king.
“When you do a play that involves real people, you need to deal with their actual back story rather a fictitious one,” Holm said. “So the whole company has spent a lot of time researching their historical counterparts.”
Adams was critically praised for the play’s blend of 1960s sass with 1660s theatrical style.
“Her language has a natural period flavor and a formidable wit; her characters possess the spark of fully animated spirits; and she weaves into her story both biographical detail and cultural context with grace,” New York Times critic Charles Isherwood wrote in a review of the 2009 premiere production. “More remarkably, the play succeeds on its own terms as a potted pastiche of Restoration comedy.”
What: Olympia Little Theatre’s production of Liz Duffy Adams’ 2009 neo-Restoration comedy, about the first woman to be a professional playwright, spotlights similarities between the 1660s and 1960s.
When: 7:25 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 16)-Sunday, plus Feb. 23-25 and 1:55 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 26.
Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia.
Information: 360-786-9484, olympialittletheatre.org.
Content note: The company doesn’t recommend the play for children or those easily offended.