This play opens with a beautiful, bedraggled woman behind bars. She is the writer Aphra Behn, and she's in debtors prison -- she can't pay her bills. As she ponders her desperate dilemma, a masked man wearing expensive clothes appears. He won't say why he's come.
Aphra Behn: "I see. You are some foolish idle wreck come to ogle and annoy a female prisoner. Well, it's dull enough here, you might as well entertain me."
Masked Stranger: "Happy to return the favor, as you have entertained me with your private counsel. A spy, are you?"
Aphra Behn: "And you're a knave and a rogue, if you take advantage of your eavesdropping."
Masked Stranger: "A knave and a rogue?"
Thus begins a rollicking adventure, filled with sudden breakthroughs and moments of danger. The stranger pays Aphra's debts, she's released from jail, and embarks on new career in the theater - a field historically reserved for men. But the 1650s were a time of rapid, radical change. Aphra Behn and a female friend find themselves marveling at the opportunities for daring women in this wide-open, brave new world.
"Look around, it's already begun. We can love who we want, girls or boys. We can wear any clothes we want, girls or boys. Oh yeah. The world is changing. A woman can be an actress! A playwright! A poet, a libertine! A spy!"
That heady combination of bold enterprise in a permissive age is a major element in this show, which contains a few too many racy implications for young kids. But veteran local actress Stephanie Gularte gives a vivid, gutsy performance as a talented woman relying on her steely intelligence and iron nerve to get ahead. This is the first local production of this much-discussed new play.
I recommend this show to grown-ups with a taste for witty dialog and sophisticated reversals of fortune. There is plenty to enjoy in this smartly polished, entertaining production.
Or continues through July 17th at Capital Stage on the Delta King riverboat in Old Sacramento.