United Players of Vancouver
Jericho Arts Centre
by Aphra Behn
A ROMP WITH A ROVER IS A FEAST FOR ALL THE SENSES
by Roxanne Davies
After weeks, nay, months of media coverage of the Clinton sex scandal, it seemed a coincidence that United Players of Vancouver should launch their new season with a play about sexual intrigue. But unlike the sordid details coming out of Washington about the piggish appetites of the free world's most powerful leader, THE ROVER is a stylish comedy which shows us love and sex can still be fun and playful, benefiting not only men but women, too.
In fact the play, written by Aphra Behn, the first recognized woman playwright, is seen as a testament to women's right to sexual pleasure and to Virginia Woolf's claim that Behn should be honoured by all women as it was she "who earned them the right to speak their minds." Behn was born in 1640, lived for a time in Surinam, wrote numerous plays, of which THE ROVER was one of the most popular. She died in 1689 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
The action in this comedy takes place during carnival time in 17th century Naples. The Spanish are in control of the sea port. England has undergone civil war and Charles II and his cavaliers have been driven abroad, many of whom are in Naples to enjoy the carnival.
Enter three winsome young ladies who have been sequestered in a nunnery by their over arching brother. They decide to make a break for it and go and enjoy themselves during the carnival. The sex starved senoritas (" There's no sinner like a young saint") meet the English sailors. (Nothing will make you pine for love like being at sea") . Need I say more?
It was very clever of the United Players to provide the audience with masks as they entered, with the entreaty to put them on when Diego the Page holds up a mask and says "tis now the occasion for false faces; mask yourself here." I noticed to my delight that many in the audience did just that.
In fact, right from the start the audience is enjoined to take part in the action. The actors strolled around the stage before the play officially begins. And what a beautiful stage it is. Kora Sevier must be commended for her beautiful set design which takes full advantage of the airy Jericho Arts Centre, even the second floor balcony, where the voluptuous courtesan, Angellica, played with great wit and beautiful enunciation by Susan Elsworthy has fun with the Rover, played with great wit and enthusiasm by Roari Richardson.
Hellena, one of the impertinent senoritas raised in the nunnery is played by Elaine Avila with such obvious sensual pleasure that she is quite a delight to watch. She and the Rover are made for each other and it is clever the way the plot contrives to ultimately enjoin the two lovers.
If I had one complaint it was the speed with which the male actors often delivered their lines. I heard one fellow commment that he had a hard time understanding the archaic English lines, and it helped that the lines ended in couplets since you could get the drift of what was said. The ladies were much easier to follow. I also became obsessed with the humming sound coming from the direction of the refreshment counter.
Beautiful period costumes from the talented hands of Tricia Boyko simply add to the sensual nature of the play. The lighting was simple and appropriate and the whole set had the feel of the alleys and byways of Naples.
Beautiful costumes, bawdy humour,passionate embraces, acrobatics and realistic sword fights. Watching these 14 talented actors is a lot more fun that CNN rehashing the current woes of President Pinocchio. As one of the characters would decry "a pox on him, the cursed puppy!"
This play illustrated for me that there was a time before puritanical American sexual mores and the spooky sexuality of Victoria England, that men were men and women were women and the way they would ultimately find themselves could provide a good deal of entertainment for lovers and spectators alike.
Copyright 1998 Roxanne Davies