By Aphra Behn
Adapted by John Barton
Illustration by Howard Pyle c1900
Graphic Design by Don Hammond, Savitski Designs
December 9 at 7:30 PM
December 10 & 11 at 8 PM
December 12 at 2 PM
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About Aphra Behn|
Much conjecture and little truth is known about the first professional woman playwright in English history. She was born in Kent, England, in 1640 as either Aphra Johnson or Aphra Amis. In 1663 her family moved to Surinam, where her father died almost immediately. In 1665 she married a Dutch merchant named Behn, of whom absolutely nothing is known beyond his name and his death in 1666. A staunch supporter of King Charles II, she became a spy for the crown during the Dutch Wars upon her return to London. She uncovered little of value during her brief career in espionage and remained unpaid for her services. Subsequently, she spent a short amount of time in debtors' prison and was released c. 1668.
Single women had no standing in any level of society, and essentially had three options: marrying, taking the veil, or becoming a courtesan or prostitute. Being kept by a rich man afforded an option to those for whom the veil or marriage was out of the question or held little interest. Aphra Behn took the unusual step of retaining control of her life and her body, instead taking up her pen. While branded a whore (ironic considering what else she could have sold), she enjoyed a very unique position in English society, and was considered to be one of the most prolific and successful dramatists of the time. She published her first play, "The Forc'd Marriage" in 1670. "The Rover" debuted in 1677 and was extremely successful. She ultimately wrote between fifteen and eighteen plays, numerous novels and poetry. Her writings were considered to be scandalous, not because of the themes, situations and characters she employed, but rather because she was a woman. After her death in 1689 her reputation eventually descended into obscurity and has only been rediscovered in the past few decades as a voice of the Restoration.
From our Newsletter|
Love in the Restoration Era
"The Rover," by England's first woman playwright, Aphra Behn, is a comedy of sexual intrigue, mistaken identities, challenges to social norms, and a search for love, set in a 17th century Spanish colony during Carnival. From its first lines, "The Rover" differs from other dramas of the time by focusing on women's issues versus male viewpoints. Today, Behn's work is heralded as 'feminist,' a strong commentary on women's roles in her society and how woman were viewed by men during the Restoration period. For us to understand the significance of her writing, it helps to know more about England of the late 1600s. In less than a generation, the monarchy had been dissolved; a king beheaded; a new government conceived, implemented and failed; and the monarchy re-established. Each event affected both the theatre and social norms of the country. Amazingly this tumultuous and repressive period would spark a new generation of dramatic and comedy writers including William Wycherley, George Farquhar, William Congreve, and Aphra Behn.
Background of the Play
King Charles I ascended to the throne of England in 1625. He inherited disagreements with Parliament from his father, but his own actions on religious and financial matters (particularly engaging in ill-fated wars with France and Spain at the same time) eventually brought about a crisis in 1628-29. These disagreements eventually led to civil wars, first with the Scots from 1637 and later in England (1642-46 and 1648). Parliament entered into an armed alliance with the Scottish Presbyterian Army and fought numerous battles against the King's forces. The Army, concluding that permanent peace was impossible while Charles lived, decided that the King must be put on trial and executed. On January 20, 1649, Charles was charged with high treason 'against the realm of England'. The King was sentenced to death on January 27 and beheaded three days later. After his death, Parliament abolished the office of the King to prevent Charles son from ascending the throne.
With the abolition of the monarchy, England entered a period of puritan repression call the Interregnum ("between reigns") or Commonwealth led by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell's rule was equally fraught with problems between himself and Parliament. Tensions arose over the nature of the constitution and the issue of supremacy, control of the armed forces, and debates over religious tolerance. In 1653 Cromwell dissolved Parliament, appointing himself Lord Protector. After Cromwell's death in 1658, and the failure of his son Richard's short-lived Protectorate, the army invited Charles I's son, Charles, to become King.
King Charles II brought with him a sense of the fun and frivolity of the French court where he had resided in exile. Charles II continued to struggle with Parliament, primarily over religious issues and finally dissolved Parliament in 1681. The king had a hedonistic character - he had numerous mistresses and illegitimate children, and loved racing and gambling - which constituted a considerable influence on the art and literature of the time.
During the English Civil Wars of the mid-1600s, the Cavaliers were the supporters of the monarchs. During the Interregnum, many of the king s followers lost their holdings and wealth. Some remained in England while others turned to a life as soldiers or sailors of fortune. They sailed off to all corners of the world in pursuit of fortune, women and adventure. With the Restoration of King Charles II to the throne, many of these young adventurers returned to England to reclaim their positions. However, most of them did not enjoy the return of their estates. Under the 1660 Act of Indemnity and Oblivion, only the lands of the Crown and the Church were automatically resumed; the lands of Royalists and other dissenters which had been confiscated and/or sold were left for private negotiation or litigation. Lacking roots but often carrying large grudges, these rovers continued to indulge in sexual and economic excess. Much of what transpired in English society at this time was a direct reaction to the repressive Puritanism that had held the country for many years.
When civil war broke out in England during Charles I's reign, in 1642, the theatres were closed to prevent public disorder. The theatres remained closed for 18 years, causing considerable hardship to professional theatre performers, managers and writers. The Puritans, led by Oliver Cromwell, opposed theatrical performances. Illegal performances were only sporadic and many public theatres were demolished. When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, the theatres companies were reopened and cast aside the Puritan restrictions of the previous eighteen years. The theatre of the time reflected the political and social changes brought by King Charles II's return to English soil. King Charles II s most notorious mistress was Nell Gwynne, who was also one of the most famous actresses of the day.
Before long it was apparent that the pre-Civil War repertoire no longer satisfied the interests of the audiences. Plays began to reflect more refined, French-influenced sensibilities. One of the new forms was the comedy of manners, which, owing much to Moliere, was typically a witty, brittle satire of current mores, usually focusing on the relationship between the sexes. Other innovations included the acceptance of women on the stage, moveable scenery and the introduction of the proscenium arch. The Restoration period also saw women become recognized as professional playwrights. A group of women writers, known as 'The Female Wits,' produced many works for the stage. The most famous of these was Aphra Behn.
"The Rover," written by Behn in 1677, stayed in the English theatre repertoire for over one hundred years. Behn sets her play in a faraway land during Carnival times, when society turns upside-down and rules can be circumvented - even women are allowed to escape their societal roles. A time of wild abandonment and lavish parties, carnival grew out of pagan and ancient roman traditions that were incorporated into early Christian traditions. Men and women donned fantastic costumes and masks, then took to the streets and salons for parties, feasts and merriment. All aspects of pleasure were considered to be allowable and the lines between the social classes blurred during the festivities. Dealing in a sympathetic way with the problems of arranged marriages, the comedy depicts the callousness that pervaded London society during the reign of Charles II.
- Rachel Francisco
"THE ROVER" OFFERS A FEMINIST VOICE IN RESTORATION COMEDY
ANN ARBOR - The U-M School of Music Department of Theatre and Drama presents the Restoration comedy "The Rover" by Aphra Behn. A tale of sexual intrigue and feminist power, "The Rover" plays December 9 at 7:30 PM, December 10 & 11 at 8 PM, and December 12 at 2 PM at the Power Center in Ann Arbor. One of the most prolific writers of the Restoration era, Aphra Behn's "The Rover" is considered a Comedy of Intrigue. Malcolm Tulip, assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Drama, directs.
England's first professional woman playwright, Aphra Behn, had been a spy for England during the Dutch wars. Unfortunately, she was unpaid for her service and, after a brief period in debtor's prison, began writing to support herself. Author of over 20 plays, Behn's most popular work, "The Rover" or "The Banished Cavaliers," was first performed by the Duke's Company on March 24, 1677 at the Dorset Garden Theatre in London, England. Behn's work differs from other comedies of the Restoration period due to her emphasis on female issues and true depictions of sexual inequities of the period. Virginia Woolf once said of her, "All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds." However, while Behn's writing was very much in line with the socially accepted lechery of the Restoration Era following Charles II's return to the throne, it was considered far more immoral because of the author's sex. Behn s frank portrayal of women and sex pushed her works into obscurity after her death in 1689.
Behn's plays were rediscovered in the 1980s, in part due to a new adaptation of "The Rover" by John Barton for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1986 starring Jeremy Irons. Barton used Behn's work as well as excerpts from her original source material, "Thomaso" by Sir Thomas Killigrew, to update the play. The Carnival setting was moved from Naples to a Spanish Caribbean Island colony, Belvile changed into a black soldier of fortune and Valeria changed from a cousin to a sister, introduced in the first scene and given an increased role. The result was a more modern comedy with a more diverse cast.
The UM production of "The Rover" is set in a 17th century Spanish colony. Three sisters gather together on the eve of Carnival, one destined for an arranged marriage, another for the nunnery, and all three looking to escape the authority of their father and brother. Entranced by the charms and good looks of three exiled English cavaliers, the girls don masks and join the men in their licentious festivities. Their adventure takes dangerous turns before culminating in love everlasting and a future of their own choosing.
""The Rover" is primarily about love versus loyalty," states director Malcolm Tulip. "Each of the characters has, through different experiences, a different perspective on how to pursue love and what exactly 'love' is and in the end they have all come to a personal understanding of it. The questions of whether being loved means being owned, whether love is eternal or ephemeral, spiritual or physical, a pastime or a commitment are all raised. In these days when the foundation of marriage is being questioned, "The Rover's" examination of marriage as a contract is particularly pertinent."
Joining Tulip on the artistic team are three faculty members of the Department of Theatre and Drama. Rob Murphy, whose designs were last seen in "Don Giovanni" and "Hansel and Gretel," designs scenery. Jessica Hahn ("Guys and Dolls") designs costumes while Henry Reynolds ("The Nutcracker") serves as sound designer. UM undergraduate student Anup Aurora makes his mainstage debut as lighting designer having previously designed for "Luck!" and "She's All Yours," both studio productions. Department of Theatre and Drama chair Erik Fredricksen, along with undergraduate student Nathan Petts, choreograph the fight sequences.
Ticket prices are $20 and $15 reserved seating with students only $9 with ID. Tickets are available in person at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League. The Ticket Office is open from 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday and 10am-1pm on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted. Tickets may also be ordered online at www.uprod.music.umich.edu. The Power Center for the Performing Arts, located at 121 N. Fletcher, is handicapped accessible and equipped with an infrared listening system for hearing enhancement.
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David Abed (Grand Ledge, MI), Chris Allen (Novi, MI),
Kirsten Mara Benjamin (Detroit, MI), Mikala Bierma (Shoreview, MN),
Jeff Blim (Mt. Prospect, IL), Adam H. Caplan (Idyllwild, CA),
Nathan Ciccolo (Newton, MA), Patrick Chu (Bellingham, WA),
Whitney Dibo (Wilmette, IL), Kyla Embrey (Warner Robins, GA),
Rob Feldman (Farmington Hills, MI), Joanna Fetter (Highland Park, IL),
De Lon Grant (Duluth, MN), Anika Habermas-Scher (Minneapolis, MN),
Kimberly Harberg (Houston, TX), Courtney Harge (Saginaw, MI),
Justin Patrick Holmes (Idyllwild, CA), Elizabeth Hoyt (Manitowoc, WI),
Edmund Alyn Jones (Detroit, MI), J. Theo Klose (West Chester, PA),
Nick Lang (Franklin, MI), Cynthia London (Detroit, MI),
Frank Maiorana (Sterling Heights, MI), Dory Mead (Ann Arbor, MI),
Malaika Nelson (Detroit, MI), Nathan Petts (Kalamazoo, MI),
Maureen Sebastian (Novi, MI), Matthew Smith (Yorba Linda, CA),
Rob Sulaver (Ypsilanti, MI), Rebecca Whatley (Cincinnati, OH)
- Kerianne M. Tupac
Click here to view The Rover program as a PDF file
Production Photographs||Anika Habermas-Scher as Kellena and Kyla Embrey as Florinda
||Joanna Fetter as Valeria
||Kyla Embrey and Adam H. Caplan as Don Pedro
||Chris Allen as Fredrerick, Justin Homes as Blunt, and De'lon Grant as Belvile
||Nathan Petts as Sancho and Maureen Sebastian as Lucetta
||Malaika Nelson as Callis
||Kyla Embrey, Anika Habermas-Scher, Joanna Fetter
||Rob Sulaver as Sebastian and Patrick Chu as Biskey
||Elizabeth Hoyt as Angellica
||Edmund Alyn Jones as Don Antonio
||J. Theo Klose as Willmore and Elizabeth Hoyt
||Kyla Embrey and Chris Allen
||De'Lon Grant and Kyla Embrey
||Kirsten Mara Benjamin as Moretta and Elizabeth Hoyt
||J. Theo Klose
||J. Theo Klose and Elizabeth Hoyt
||J. Theo Klose and Anika Habermas-Scher