A new play about old bisexuality comes to Main Street Theater
by Donalevan Maines
Or, (complete with a comma) is the title of Liz Duffy Adams’s play coming to Main Street Theater—and that says a lot. “Most people aren’t simply just one thing,” she explains.
Adams describes her own sexuality as “straight, but not narrow. . . . We are a combination of opposites,” she adds, and that’s how she presents the life and loves of 17th-century spy-turned-playwright Aphra Behn in Or, (again, the comma isn’t a typo). Behn wrote for the theater when it was common for a play to have two titles, such as Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night; or, What You Will. Behn’s biggest hit, for example, was The Rover; or, The Banish’d Cavaliers.
Adams admits it’s “the middle—the ‘or’ in our lives” that most interests her. “Romance and love are very, very interesting stuff for a playwright,” she says. However, she laughs, “Heterosexual romances, that’s been done. It’s really been done!”
Adams goes beyond traditional boy-meets-girl in Or,—a saucy farce in which Behn beds both a woman (Nell Gwynne, a notorious actress) and a man (King Charles II), then they have a three-way! “Historically, it did seem that Aphra Behn was bisexual,” says Adams. “It was also fashionable in her day. There was a cachet to being sexually adventurous, but I think hers was also genuinely heartfelt.” In contrast, Adams found no evidence that Behn had a romance with the king. She made that up.
Adams grew up in Massachusetts, at times planning to become a writer or a painter. In her senior year of high school, she says, she discovered acting. “The theater bug hit, and I just had to go to New York. I mean, it was ‘the city.’ I felt that I would die if I didn’t go,” she laughs. “You know, I was 18.”
“Gradually,” says Adams, she drifted away from acting. She wrote a play, A Fabulous Beast, and sent it to an acting company downtown. Her script was sitting on a desk when an actress picked it up, read it, and wanted to do it.
The actress was Edie Falco, before she hit it big with The Sopranos, but already powerful enough to speak it into being. Falco chose the director, and she involved Adams in the process of getting it on stage at One Dream Theatre. “She was terrific in it,” says Adams.
A Fabulous Beast, she explains, was semi-autobiographical, set in New York City in the ’80s, about a young bohemian, sort of having a nervous breakdown, living amid squalor.
“The best thing about becoming a play-wright is that all those wasted years and dreadful jobs and stupid mistakes, now they’re gold. They’re all valuable, all grist for the mill,” she says. “One time, I made a list and I counted 50 different kinds of jobs I had. Waitressing, cooking, cleaning houses, cleaning apartments. All those years of horrible jobs, I think, gave me a real empathy for Aphra Behn,” says Adams.
Or, begins with Behn in debtors’ prison, unable to pay the bills but steadfastly refusing to do follow the expected path of getting married so she’d be supported
by a man.
Adams explains that she began researching Behn’s life a few years ago after a friend who was producing and directing The Rover asked Adams to write an original-verse prologue for the production.
A 1997 graduate of Yale University with a master’s in fine arts in playwriting, Adams says that after years of supplementing her writing with other jobs, including teaching, 2010 was the first year that she worked exclusively as a playwright. “This coming year, I don’t know,” she shrugs. “This is a very tenuous profession.”
Adams is set to attend the March 19 performance of Or, and engage in a talkback with the audience following the performance, along with director Troy Scheid and the cast of three actors (Stephanie Holland Earl, Jessica Boone, and Patrick Earl), who play seven characters. There is no extra charge to attend the talkback.
The world premiere of Or, was at the Women’s Project in New York in 2009. It won a Lillian Hellman Award for Playwriting in 2010. The Magic Theatre in San Francisco gave the play its West Coast premiere at the end of 2010. This production marks the show’s Southwest premiere.
Main Street Theater calls Or, “a passionate, joyful look at all kinds of freedom: sexual, spiritual, artistic, and political.”
When: Preview on March 10; opens March 11 and runs through March 20. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays.
Where: Main Street Theater–Rice Village, 2540 Times Blvd.
Tickets: $24–$35 (preview performance $10) available at the box office at 2540 Times Blvd., via phone at 713/524-6706, or online at mainstreettheater.com.
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.