by April De Angelis
Director Brain Cook
Scenic Design by Frani Geiger
Lighting Design and Technical Direction by Janet Rose
Sound Design by The Company
Cast: Doll Common: JENNIFER BALESTRACCI, Nell Gwyn: JESSELYN PARKS, Mrs. Farley: KATELYN ELIAS, The Earl of Rochester: PHILIP MORTON, Thomas Otway: KARL METZ, Mrs. Marshall: EVYLYN BROWN, Mrs. Betterton: VIRGINIA RICE, Mrs. Barry: MEGAN MATTHEWS
Director’s Notes: In 1660, Charles II was restored to the English throne, ushering in an era of licentiousness and theatricality. After years of civil war and Puritan administration, everyone was ready to have a little fun. The Puritans had outlawed anything they viewed as barriers to worship, including the theatre, and Charles was quickly persuaded to grant two letters patent allowing the theatres to reopen. With the theatre came the debut of the actress in England, at first in competition with boy actors for female roles. In 1662, Charles decreed that only women should play women, in part because that’s what he liked to see and as a sop to the Puritans, who grudgingly accepted women on stage as long as the “unnatural” boys who dressed as women were outlawed.
Unquestionably, theatre allowed the early British actresses to express themselves in ways never before possible. Their performances changed history, paving the way for successive generations of women to become actresses. In the Restoration period, the stage impacted the way its audience understood the world as much as films, TV shows or advertisements do for an audience today. Bringing women onto the stage to replace the boy actors was a tremendous step forward in representing “real life,” but at what cost? It allowed women access, but, even after women like Aphra Behn began writing plays, it didn’t much alter how women were viewed and understood by the audience. As Mrs. Marshall says late in the play, “[I’m] free. To play a faithful wife or an unfaithful one. A whore, a mistress. Where’s the freedom in that?”
As we worked on Playhouse Creatures, we were constantly struck by the many themes in the play that have relevance to our present-day profession. As the tides change in the course of the play and we see each actress’s fame rise and fall, we are asked to think about the question of fame, the question of who has “It”. Fame is transitory, and those who are famous one minute will often be outshone in the next by another actress with something “more,” something “new” to offer. There is always a new “it-girl” waiting in the wings. Then and now, youth and novelty reign supreme.
For those cast aside, though, the dream does not die. We might use the term “all washed up” to refer to these women’s lost careers, but, for each of them, the end is far from clean. In the play, we see the aftermath. As Mrs. Betterton says after her time in front of the footlights passes, “I knew that [by becoming an actor] I had done a terrible thing and that nothing would ever be the same for me again. I had tasted a forbidden fruit and its poisons had sunk deep into my soul. … I never forgot that feeling. The poison’s still in my blood. Like a longing. A longing.”
In Playhouse Creatures, the characters’ “follies supply the stage.” Regardless of the pressures on them from the outside, these women demonstrated that they had dreams, desires, and the willingness to muscle their way to the top of this new profession. Their successes and failures, their highs and lows, their joys and their sorrows are all featured here for you to witness. We hope you find them as fascinating to watch as we have to explore.