The Rover at Blackfriars Theatre
By Erin Keating
On March 14, Roanoke College students and faculty traveled to the American Shakespeare Center at the Blackfriars Theatre in Staunton to see their Renaissance Production of Aphra Behn’s The Rover. This was an amazing opportunity to see a rarely performed play by one of the Reformation’s most prevalent female playwrights. In fact, she was one of the first recorded female playwrights and her work puts sassy females center stage who frequently combat men with their wits alone.
The Rover is no different, a comic triumph, it features sisters Hellena and Florinda whose lives are being controlled by their father and older brother Don Pedro. These male influences have dictated that Helena will be sent to a nunnery and Florinda has to choose between marrying two men she does not love. When Florinda learns her brother plans to marry her off to his best friend, Don Antonio the next day, Florinda and Helena decide to enjoy their last night of freedom at Festival, but chaos ensues when their paths cross with sex-crazed Cavaliers from England.
This particular production of The Rover was a theatrical feat because it was part of the Actor’s Renaissance Season at the American Shakespeare Center. The Renaissance Season entails a production which closely follows production practices from Shakespeare’s time. This means there are no directors, costume or set designers, or extended rehearsal time. The performers had less than 42 hours of rehearsal prior to performance. In addition to the time constraints, they also have five plays in rotation during the Renaissance Season which means each actor must have five different parts memorized and ready to perform on any given day.
Among this extremely talented cast were several stand out performers including Lauren Ballard as the shamelessly flirtatious Hellena as well as John Harrell, as Willmore the Rover who is ready to sleep with anything that moves. Ballard and Harrell had great on-stage chemistry during their verbal battles and gave life to characters who were practically made for each other. Patrick Midgley as the first gullible, then misogynistic Ned Blunt provided the slapstick comedy for this already hysterical play. He spent the second half of the show in his underwear after being tricked out of all of his possessions – including his clothes – by a woman he didn’t realize was a prostitute. To add insult to injury, his lovely lady was played by a man in drag, which added to the dramatic irony for the audience. Ned’s final appearance onstage in a Matador costume, the only clothes he could find, was the cherry on top for this riotous show. Highly interactive, funny, and with great historical significance, the field trip to The Rover provided the Roanoke College community with an opportunity for off-campus education. This show is a must-see and worth the hour and a half trip to Staunton.