Everybody likes strong sexual innuendo. And, of course, everyone likes seventeenth-century Naples. The combination of these two elements provides a strong setup for the Freshman Theater Program’s solid production of The Rover.
The show, written by Aphra Behn and directed by Partick Demers, runs a somewhat lengthy three hours but keeps a brisk pace throughout. It chronicles the complex misadventures of a group of Englishmen as they experience a variety of romantic troubles. Though the play was first performed in 1677, the plot seems strikingly modern—relationship problems are always relevant.
The plot centers on the straight-edge love story between a British colonel, Belvile (Matthew J. Weinstock ’05), and Florinda (Anna C. Walters ’05), a young aristocrat who loves the penniless Belville, but is being forced to marry the wealthy Don Antonio (Steven A. Smith ’05).
Walters and Weinstock are earnest in their portrayal of the brokenhearted lovers struggling to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Unfortunately, the story line is too standard and fails to match the more intriguing experiences of the other characters. The obvious plotline, however, does provide a nice framework for the play, anchoring it from beginning to end.
Perhaps the strongest performance is given by Thomas P. Lowe ’05 as Willmore, the rover, who makes up in libido and charisma what he lacks in money and good sense. Lowe’s confidence and skill make Willmore extremely fun to watch.
As Willmore chases every skirt in sight, he becomes entangled with two women. The first is Hellena, Florinda’s sister, played wonderfully by Kirandeep K. Deol ’05. The scenes involving Hellena and Willmore are among the most dynamic and entertaining in the play. Hellena’s vivacious personality doesn’t quite fit the future path she has selected (nun), but Willmore comes along in time to make her reconsider.
He also becomes involved with Angellica Bianca, a highly sought-after prostitute who falls prey to the greatest occupational hazard of her profession—love. Danielle Perry, the professional actress who plays Angellica, delivers a performance that is forceful but a bit too strained to mesh with the rest of the cast.
The other major subplot involves Blunt, an Englishman who hopes to find the women of Naples more responsive to his charms than those of his homeland. Caleb L. Rabinowitz ’05 does a fine job with the tricky part, which requires him to act as comic relief most of the time but to communicate genuine emotion at a few key turns.
One of The Rover’s biggest assets is its use of humor. Behn’s jokes about inconstancy, insecurities and relationship problems in general, still draw a laugh today. More than mindless entertainment, Behn’s play serves as a vehicle to challenge conventional conceptions of relationships. The play raises even more serious issues when, towards the end, it temporarily abandons its light-hearted tone and explores darker issues of rape and violence.
The direction by professional director Demers is crisp and solid. The only problem is that Behn’s script leaves the stage more crowded than necessary; frequently, several actors are on stage with only a couple involved in the action. Consequently, the production feels more static than it should. Similarly, the musical interludes during set changes are a bit too long—ordinarily this would be a small detail, but in a play of such length any loss of momentum is crucial.
Agassiz Theater, elegant as always, is a perfect venue for the play. The simple sets are accentuated by the theater’s beauty, and the elaborate costumes provide the rest of the requisite grandeur. Additionally, the actors seem very comfortable with the dress and mannerisms of seventeenth-century aristocracy.
With several strong performances, sharp direction and a far-reaching script, The Rover is a three-hour investment that pays off with satisfying entertainment.
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