June 16th, 2013

Carte Blanche Theatre, "Or"

On Friday, June 7th, we went to Carte Blanche Theater to see their production of "Or," by Liz Duffy Adams.

The play blurb is: "The show takes place (mostly) during one night in the life of Aphra Behn, Poet, spy, and soon to be the first professional female playwright. Sprung from debtors' prison after a disastrous overseas mission, Aphra is desperate to get out of the spy trade. She has a shot at a production at one of only two London companies, if she can only finish her play by morning despite interruptions from sudden new love, actress Nell Gwynne; complicated royal love, King Charles II; and very dodgy ex-love, double -agent William Scott, who may be in on a plot to murder the king in the morning. Can Aphra resists Nell's charms, save Charles' life, win William a pardon, and launch her career, all in one night?"

Ahpra Behn was a real person, who did, in fact, work as an international spy for King Charles II; was thrown in debtor's prison due to not having been paid by the ever-penurious King; and did go on to be Britain's first female professional playwright. The play also toys with the notion that she may have been Charles II's lover; may have been Nell Gwynne's lover (Gwynne famously being Charles' mistress); and that her past work in espionage may have come back to haunt her, in the shape of a former partner who is still very much out "in the cold".

Rachel Sandlin plays Behn, a long role in s shortish play since she is on stage most of the time. Attractive rather than conventionally beautiful, she did not play Behn as a femme fatale, but showed how she could conquer with wit, wile, and charm. Brittany Bonnell played two roles: the determinedly naughty and entertaining Nell, and Behn's feisty servant, Maria. Hard-working Zach McClain played Charles II, the desperate ex-spy William Scott, a jailer in the prolog, and a hilarious "dame" role as Lady Davenant, de facto head of one of London's two chartered theaters.

On the night of the play's main two acts, Behn has to deal with a visit from Nell Gwynne. Gwynne is trying to seduce Behn into bed, and Behn is trying to seduce Gwynne into the play she is writing. Both are making progress when the evening is interrupted, first by King Charles who is intent on reviving old relations with Behn, and very willing to achieve new ones with Gwynne; ex-spy William Scott, who wants to blackmail Behn into helping him cut a deal with the King; and Lady Davenant, who wants Behn's new play for her theater, but only if it is done by morning. This develops into a classic farce framework, with doors opening and closing, characters running on and off, and identities mistaken and discovered.
However, the farce is not all the play is about, as Duffy Adams gives Behn, the King, and Gwynne witty and often genuinely poetic dialog about wit, art, politics, and relations between men and women (and women--).

Although the show had been well reviewed, for some odd reason, we were the only two audience members in the house that night. (We gather it did better other nights, but this felt peculiar.) The cast gave us their all, regardless, and we were treated to a well-acted, fast-paced, and funny performance, that we enjoyed a great deal.

Carte Blanche made generally good use of a very minimal production budget. Some of the set design elements were odd, but not too distracting. The costume budget went into Behn's dress, Gwywnn's male garb, and "Lady Davenant's" drag, which left Mr. McClain with a male outfit that might have been adequate for a jailer or a hunted man, but distinctly un-Kingly (even if in mufti). In particular, couldn't the budget have stretched (so to speak) to some decent hose for the man, instead of the ugly socks that bared his hairy calves to view? It really is annoying when simple details get neglected. However, these are minor quibbles in an otherwise very good show.

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We hadn't seen much advance information about the new animated movie "Epic," but went to see it on the strong recommendation of friends. I will second those recommendations.

"Epic" combines some very classical plot ideas, but manages to come up with something quite fresh. On the one hand, there is the situation of Mark Katherine, or "M.K.", (Amanda Seyfried), who is coming to live with her father after her mother's death. Father (Jason Sudekis)is a questionably sane science geek. His obsession with proving that a sophisticated society of little beings exists in the undergrowth of the New England forest is what has ruined his reputation and driven his wife and daughter away.

On the other hand, there IS such a society, which we find engaged in a deadly war between the forces of life and renewal, lead by Queen Tara (Beyoncé Knowles), and the forces of rot and decay, lead by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz). Mandrake is apparently insane as well, as, not appreciating that all things die as it is, and that rot and decay is the source of new life, he wants to extend his immediate dominion over all things NOW, which would result in disastrous disruption of the balance of nature.

Tara's people include the human-looking leaf men, plantoid people (called "jinns" in the credits), pretty birds and nice bugs. A snail, "Mub" (Aziz Ansari) and a slug, "Grub" (Chris O'Dowd)who provide the requisite comic relief for the good guys. Mandrake's people are called Boggans (think goblins from "The Hobbit" in horde quantities and two inches tall), and the usual creepy creature suspects like crows and bats.

Trying to catch the family dog (there are a number of "Wizard of Oz" references) M.K. steps into the middle of a crucial battle, and get shrunken down to two inch height when Tara calls on her for aid in her last extremity.

How M.K., the heroic Leaf Man leader "Ronin," (Colin Farrell) and the charming screw-up "Nod" (Josh Hutcherson) save the day takes up the greater part of the remainder of the film. The story, for all its basicness, is done with wit and charm, and some clever foreshadowings that we didn't see the significance of when they happened.

Perhaps more importantly, the movie is rich to look at. The micro-world of the forest is beautifully realized, and blends realistic, fantastic, and comic elements very nicely.

"Epic" is a pleasant, pretty, and ultimately sweet afternoon's entertainment. Recommended for all who can stand the intense action and scary creatures.

Besides, it has one of the best lines of the season: "I've got to go Heimlich my friend out of a slug."

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