by Lynn Marie Macy · March 24, 2014
Aphra Behn (1640 – 1689) is the first professional female playwright to write in English. Not only was she one of the most prolific playwrights of the 17th century, finding great success with her many comedies, she is also widely regarded as key to the development of the modern novel paving the way for generations of women writers to follow. After her death prudish critics vilified her bawdy plots and her nerve for daring to publicly compete in a male dominated field. Her work fell into relative obscurity but thankfully and deservedly there is currently renewed interest in her work.
Happily the Queens Company is mounting a rare production of Sir Patient Fancy originally written by Behn in 1678 and performed by the Duke’s Theatre in London. Sir Patient Fancy has everything you might expect in a delightful Restoration Comedy, dashing heroes, comely maidens, foolish fops, artful coquettes and a rich old hypochondriac. The fabulous twist here is that all the roles are played by women. This skilled and energetic cast assembled by director Rebecca Patterson perfectly inhabits this Restoration universe and hilariously brings the play into the present day.
Aphra Behn was a woman ahead of her time courageous, intelligent and possessing a singular talent. Not all of her male colleagues were accepting of her success. She often found herself highlighting the difficult position of women in the 17th century in her work. In Sir Patient Fancy - Isabella Fancy (a bright and spunky Sarah Joyce) is in love with Lodwick Knowell (a confidently swaggering Sarah Hankins) and Lucretia Knowell (an innocent and appealing Antoinette Robinson) is in love with Leander Fancy (a sympathetic and earnest Amy Driesler) but their parents are determined their daughters should be wed to wealthy suitors, “and all for a filthy jointure, the undeniable argument for our slavery to fools”, says Lucretia. Isabella’s father Sir Patient Fancy (a very funny Natalie Lebert) is a foolish rich alderman whose beautiful young wife Lady Fancy (a sultry and conniving Tiffany Abercrombie) spends all her time scheming to be with her handsome young lover Wittmore (a charming and randy Elisabeth Preston) and Lucretia’s mother the overly erudite Lady Knowell (an imposing Julia Campanelli) is hoping to wed her daughter to a ridiculous fop Sir Credulous Easy (a hilarious Virginia Baeta). What ensues is a whacky and wild stream of mistaken identities, secret assignations, bawdy jokes, masquerades and narrow escapes. This talented cast is completed by Karen Berthel and Kelsey Arendt who each take on multiple roles with aplomb.
The attractive marbleized set and colorful lights by Matthew J. Flick support the action and the beautiful classically inspired costumes by Kristina Makowski lend a hand in color coding the families so we are never in doubt as to who is who. Director Patterson has trimmed and staged the play with economy and precision. The pace does not lag and the laughs flow easily. Aside from a couple of gags that fell flat and some lip syncing that goes on a bit too long this production is a perfect delight.
I urge everyone to take advantage of this rare opportunity to take in this entertaining comedy and connect with a piece of theatrical history. You won’t be disappointed. I will leave the epilogue to the author who always had a message for her critics.
To all the Men of Wit we will subscribe:
But for your half Wits, you unthinking Tribe,
We’ll let you see, whate’er besides we do,
How artfully we copy some of you:
And if you’re drawn to th’ Life, pray tell me then,
Why Women should not write as well as Men.