United Players of Vancouver

The Feigned Courtesans
by Aphra Behn

Director Sarah Rodgers Music Pat Unruh Fights  Nicholas Harrison Set Gillian Jones Costumes Monique McRae Lighting Gill Wolpert Stage Manager Leslie Lessard

Dates 18 November - December 11  2005 Venue Jericho Arts Centre Reviewer Jane Penistan

Courtesans Graphic
The Feigned Courtesans

The Feigned Courtesans is a lighthearted Restoration romp full of intrigue, mistaken identity, women masquerading as men, and the mistakes of a night. Aphra Behn, thought to be the first woman to earn her living as a playwright, was a woman whose identity is difficult define, as she was inclined to reinvent herself, either fancifully or truthfully, as occasion demanded.

She remains a clever, witty, and insightful writer of comedy, romance, and tragedy. In her day she could hold her own with the now better known writers of her age. Her plays were performed in the London of Charles II in an age of freedom and frivolity, in contrast to the preceding years of austerity under the Puritan regime of Oliver Cromwell. It was at this time that women first appeared on the English stage

Staged in the round, with costumed musicians tucked into a corner of the auditorium, the play presents a gorgeous spectacle. The costumes are lavish and colourful, with the full breeches, long brocade jackets and decorative waistcoats for the men and pannier skirts, low bodices, silks and satins for the women. Ribbons and lace abound. Plumed broad brimmed hats to flourish or be a disguise are worn by men and women, all of whom are elaborately bewigged. 

In contrast, the playing area is almost bare, the entrances being two curtained archways, one topped with a balcony, the others marked by a pillar or small statue. Seating is provided by a few strategically placed benches.

All the actors acquire a semblance of style in stance and movement, demanded by the elegant clothes. Some manage this better than others. There is a distinct difference between the gentry and their well trained servants and the would be gentry and the flagrant Petro of Ryan W. Smith, who is a man of many talents He is servant to Marcella (Sasa Brown) and Cornelia (Naomi Wright), but also a barber, dancing teacher, and fencing master, instructor in etiquette and pimp to the supposed courtesans.

These arts he practises on the hapless young nobleman, Sir Signal Buffoon and his tutor, the fussy, pretentious Mr Tickletext (Alex McMorran). This clever trickster also manages to create mayhem by leading the men to the wrong rooms in the dark of the spacious Roman house, after confusing them in the dim streets.

Joel Redmond presents Sir Harry Fillamour as a well mannered aristocratic English gentleman, a contrast to the much more worldly and devil-may-care friend, Mr Galliard, of Jason Nicola. Christopher Murray is the young Roman count, Julio, friend of the two visiting Englishmen, and brother of Marcella and Cornelia, the ladies who disguise themselves as courtesans, or young men as occasion demands.

Another young woman who also affects men's attire is Laura Lucretia, betrothed to Julio. To add to the confusion, Marcella is unwillingly destined for the hand of Octavio (Ian Harmon), another roman youth of high birth, but an unpleasant disposition.Monica Kim doubles as the companion and maid to the feigned courtesans and as the harpsichord player.

Some exciting and well rehearsed swordplay occurs, as the young men meet and clash in jealous rivalry, sometimes rescued and/or assisted by the disguised girls. During the evening there is considerable coming and going in the city and in the palatial house of Laura Lucretia, as lovers and would be lovers endeavour to meet in seclusion, with more or less success.

All is resolved in a happy ending, with the right young man getting the right girl, the fools gulled and chastened by their experiences and the cunning Petro content with his ill gotten gains.

While this appears to be a very confusing work, when so well performed by many recent graduates from UBC Theatre Department, and brilliantly, clearly directed by Sarah Rodgers, all is clarified into a very funny and entertaining comedy. It is also an opportunity to experience a little known play that is well worth doing and seeing.

© 2005 Jane Penistan