They say Washington, D.C. is a company town. For husband-and-wife director-actor team Aaron Posner and Erin Weaver that means being part of the theater scene here, not the government—and “Or,” at Round House Theatre, is the couple’s latest successful show.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with lots of really excellent directors,” said Weaver, who grew up in a theater-centric family and toured as Young Cosette and Young Eponine in “Les Miserables” at age 10. “But the reality is we can be so honest with each other, we know each other, we can say anything.”
They are collaborative, not competitive, Weaver said, noting that her background, with theater as the family business, prepared her well for the fine line between enjoying independent projects and taking advantage of the ease and chemistry that occur when the couple are working together.
Weaver sees Posner as a mentor, collaborator and sounding board. “He has a particular style,” she observed. “The way he approaches the work is very similar to the way I do: We care about the same things.”
And about the same people, most notably. Posner, a prolific playwright as well as a director, said that part of his signature style is to work with good friends, colleagues and longtime collaborators—“my trusted artistic partners.”
In “Or,” he does just that. “It’s funny,” Weaver observed. “In this show, there are only two other actors, one of which is Holly Twyford who is best friends with Aaron; she’s like family. And of course, Gregory Linington–he’s amazing.
“They’d just done ‘(Who’s Afraid of) Virginia Woolf’ together (at Ford’s Theatre in January). They were in the trenches with that,” she said. “You’d think they’d been working together forever—and then Gregory and I became very, very close: Because of that history, we were all close.”
That closeness is key to the success of “Or,” Liz Duffy Adams’ historical comedy that premiered in 2009. Based on the slim biographical details of England’s first professional female playwright, Aphra Behn—who was also a poet, a spy and a 17th century libertine of sorts—“Or,” has a title that mimics the Restoration Era’s love of conjunction-encrusted play titles, and a plot driven by similarities between the 1660s and the 1960s.
“Our opinion of the play got better and better as we got deeper into it,” said Posner, who calls Duffy-Adams “a really smart playwright.
“One of the particular joys for all of us was entering into this world that is love-positive, sex-positive, exploration-positive, hope-for-the-future-positive,” he said. “It’s not closing its eyes to the darkness, but it is a very hopeful, positive vision. People are enjoying not only the virtuosity of the performers, but also being in this very positive little world.”
That world is set in London during the Restoration; it’s a reimagining of the heady period post-1660 when King Charles II (the exiled-to-France Stuart heir known as The Merry Monarch) was restored to the English throne after Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth bit the historical dust. Any decent Restoration comedy (AKA comedy of manners) revels in a sort of post-Puritan sensuality and frivolity—prior to the Restoration, theater was banned in England for 18 years—and “Or,” invites all kinds of parallels with the swinging ‘60s that would occur 300 years in the future.
“In the prologue, (Duffy-Adams) says this is the 1660s, the 1960s and now,” explained Weaver, noting that the exquisite Round House set of Aphra’s apartment is filled with bits of anachronistic details that evoke more modern ideas of tuning in and turning on. “Our language and our costumes are mostly based in the 1660s, but there’s a ton of free love, pot smoking, 1960s energy and contemporary takes on a lot of the (characters’) ideas. She is trying to make sure that people see the echoing.”
Weaver said that “Or,” is historically accurate as far as what is known about the female characters that populate it. “What we do know about Aphra is that she was a playwright and a spy,” she explained. “We know a lot about Nell Gwynne, especially the latter half of her life; we don’t know that much about Lady Davenant, but we know she did take over her husband’s company.”
“This is a play about a lot of things, but for me, it’s a female empowerment play, a reminder of the obstacles we have to jump over,” Weaver continued. “Aphra’s character is so brilliant, a woman crossing all these lines: a spy, the first published (female) playwright. And the three women I play are all incredible: Nell Gwynn was Charles II’s mistress for 17 years and had two kids by him—and as it turns out, Prince William’s mother, Princess Diana, was a descendent of Nell Gwynne.
“Lady Davenant, the producer, also a real woman, took over her husband’s theater company when he died—women didn’t do that! And Maria, the Irish maid, is a fictional character, but she’s incredibly brave and takes matters into her own hands.
“So, all throughout this play, you’ve got these fierce, brave women breaking boundaries.”
Duffy Adams, using the playwright’s prerogative for creative historical embellishment most famously perfected by Lin-Manuel Miranda in “Hamilton,” has taken her vast knowledge of this period and crafted a plausible plot in which real characters manage to meet and impact each other. “It’s all imagined,” said Weaver, “but these characters really belong to each other, and Liz does it with a great deal of integrity.”
Duffy Adams brought that integrity in person to this production, coming to Bethesda at the Posner’s invitation to collaborate “even though the show is 8 years old and has had dozens of productions.
“I love what Liz was up to,” Posner added, noting that he’s working on his own historical play. “I love when people can be brought forward out of history, and I think she does it beautifully.”
The first day of rehearsal, Posner said he spoke to the cast and crew about his vision of “Or,” but neglected to note “the feminist, female-focused, feminine energy of the play” until his wife brought it up. “Erin was the first one to jump in and add it,” he admitted. “And we kept it in front of us from then on—always. I love that it’s a piece for strong women.”
And that it’s positive. Posner likes making theater that’s positive. “Even ‘Virginia Woolf,’ which is a really bleak piece,” he noted. “I still tried to point it toward hope.
“I think that’s my bias: I’m essentially a positive, hopeful person. I don’t want to turn a blind eye to the incredible complexities of the world, and I don’t think that I do, but I like to stay hopeful. I’ve done a lot more Shakespeare comedy than I have tragedy.”
And he anticipates doing a lot more in this company town, where he and Weaver have made a home in Silver Spring and started a family.
Does Posner see himself directing their daughter some day? He doesn’t hesitate.
“I would be very surprised if I didn’t!”
“Or,” by Liz Duffy Adams, is at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, through May 7. Performances start at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets start at $30, with discounts available for senior citizens, military, veterans, groups and those 30 and younger (with ID). Call 240-644-1100 or visit www.roundhousetheatre.org.
Video – Inside OR, with Director Aaron Posner