Like all small Boston theater companies, Simple Machine and Maiden Phoenix scramble to find affordable performance spaces. So they felt like they’d hit the jackpot when they landed the new black box in the Chelsea Theatre Works for their co-production of “Or,”.
“It’s a very flexible performance space,” says Simple Machine’s Stephen Libby. “But it also includes dressing rooms with a shower, a box office, lobby, bar, and even a washer/dryer to maintain costumes.”
“Not to mention we are able to rehearse here, too,” says Maiden Phoenix’s Erin Eva Butcher.
But more than economies of scale brought these companies together.
Liz Duffy Adams’s “Or,” explores the choices and ambitions of 17th-century playwright Aphra Behn, a woman who defied conventions and thrived, first as a spy for King Charles II and then as a popular, self-supporting playwright. The play has themes that fit the missions of both Simple Machine (whose artistic team consists of Libby and Anna Waldron, who are married) and Maiden Phoenix.
“We are interested in strong stories told simply,” says Libby, while Maiden Phoenix focuses on stories written by and about women.
A tale of a woman writing her own story, “Or,” had multiple layers of meaning for the artistic team. “The play is really funny, and has some farcical aspects, but it also manages to be modern and old-fashioned at the same time,” says director Adrienne Boris.
“Aphra was breaking down barriers for women,” says Waldron, who plays the spy-turned-playwright. “She was encouraging independence and the rights of an individual, while also touting the importance of an absolute monarchy.”
While Adams’s script is set in the late 1660s, it also shifts to the 1960s and the present.
“The action takes place just as Charles II is re-opening the theaters and Aphra sees an opportunity for a new career,” says Boris. “The characters are all hoping for a new golden age after years of a war on culture.”
Waldron says she is excited to play a woman who is open to possibilities.
“She’s determined to find a new way forward,” she says. “It’s poignant at the end when they are trying to usher in a new age of hope. It feels even more poignant knowing it was written before the current political administration came to power.”
The decision to mount the co-production happened almost by accident, says Libby, adding that all the principals have known each other for years. Libby met Waldron when they both appeared in a production of “Cooking with Elvis,” and Waldron and Butcher appeared together in Maiden Phoenix’s recent production of “Sense and Sensibility.” Libby and Boris are connected through their work with Opera Boston.
Although everyone on the creative team has plenty of acting or directing credits, for this production Libby is focusing on marketing, Butcher is designing costumes, while the others add producing duties to onstage work.
“This collaboration allows the production to have a much more ambitious feel,” says Waldron. “I know Aphra would approve of the sense of joy and lust for life we are all bringing to ‘Or,.’ ”
A king faces his “exit”
Party debris litters the rehearsal playing space for Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s “Exit the King.” Eugene Ionesco’s bleakly comic drama, which runs Sept. 13-Oct. 8 at the Jackie Liebergott Black Box in the Paramount Center, imagines a kingdom at the edge of collapse, due to the neglect of an egomaniacal King Berenger. Confronted with the fact that the party is over, the king, played by Richard Snee, spends the next 90 minutes comically, and then desperately, watching his power, authority, and even his kingdom, disintegrate.
“It’s very funny, but it’s also terrifying,” says Snee, one of Boston’s best comic actors. “It’s full of pratfalls and physical humor. At first, I thought he was just a buffoon, but as the play unfolds we learn about his brutality. After we played the final scene, our director said he was touched, and I thought, ‘How can this be? The man’s a monster.’ What makes the play compelling is that he is all of these things: a clown, a despot, a sentimental husband, a spoiled, demanding ruler.”
Director Dmitry Troyanovsky says he is drawn to complicated texts, like those of Ionesco. Although “Exit the King” is considered the playwright’s masterpiece, Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano” and “Rhinoceros” are produced more often.
“We are not trying to answer questions so much as present these characters as flawed individuals and let the audience draw their own conclusions about their behavior,” Troyanovsky says.
Ionesco, says Snee, “was interested in archetypes, but what’s interesting is how Berenger’s attempt to avoid death starts to become personal and sound more and more familiar. As he becomes frightened about what is looming before him, his story becomes surprisingly poignant.”
Everyone, no matter how powerful, must confront his or her own mortality. Over the course of the play, the king refuses to believe the truth, tries to bargain for more time, complains about the unfairness of it all, demands that his legacy be everywhere.
“What was going to happen to him someday, is now,” says Snee.
Imagining a post-mermaid Ariel
Heart & Dagger Productions returns to Club Café with the company’s latest drag parody, “The Menopausal Mermaid,” through Sept. 24. Written by Michael Gaucher and directed by Joey Pelletier, the show imagines an older, wiser Ariel, whose adjustment to life with legs is not quite what she thought it would be. Tickets: $25-$60 at www.Menopausalmermaid.bpt.me
At Wellesley, direct from London
Wellesley College will host Actors from the London Stage for free performances of “Measure for Measure” Sept. 14-16 in the Dana Chapman Walsh Alumnae Auditorium. Five actors from a range of British theater companies will play multiple characters in Shakespeare’s tragicomic tale of justice and forgiveness. For more information, call 781-283-2000 or go to www.wellesley.edu/events.
Presented by Simple Machine and Maiden Phoenix, at Chelsea Theatre Works, Sept. 8-23. Tickets: $25, www.ortheplay.comTerry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.