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Aphra Benn's 'Rover' (1677) Revived in London

January 09, 1988|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

The first woman playwright was a medieval nun named Hroswitha, but the first woman playwright to make any money at it was Aphra Benn. The Royal Shakespeare company's production of Benn's saucy comedy "The Rover" (1677) has transferred from Stratford to London, to mostly pleasant reviews.

With lines such as "Who made the laws by which you judge me? Men!" Benn's piece struck some male reviewers as feminist. The New Statesman's Victoria Radin thought the play merely showed that Benn "sometimes, but not always, used her own eyes to describe the world around her. . . . It lost my interest before its natural end."

Punch's Sheridan Morley, however, felt that the story and John Barton's staging "admirably convey Benn's belief in the equality among the sexes before marriage, coupled with a certain reluctant submission after it."

"The biggest surprise," wrote Michael Billington in The Guardian, "is Jeremy Irons, who, as a rake-hell sexual adventurer, gives his happiest performance since 'Wild Oats.' Like a lot of actors invariably cast as martyred romantics, Mr. Irons is, deep down, a comedian."

Compare Clive Hirschorn in the Sunday Express: "Comedy is not Jeremy Irons' forte. He simply isn't a funny man."

As of Jan. 1, "Peter Pan" went into public domain in England. That means no more royalties for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, to whom J.M. Barrie willed his copyright in 1937.

But "Peter Pan" remains a Christmas tradition in London. The Royal Shakespeare Company has retired its production of Barrie's original 1904 play, but there's a new production of the American musical at the Cambridge Theatre, starring the British pop singer Lulu.

This is the Mary Martin version of "Peter Pan," seen only once before in London. Francis King of the Sunday Telegraph found it less "disturbing" than the RSC's version, better suited for kids and rather less interesting.

Trivia question: Who originally produced the musical version of "Peter Pan"? Edwin Lester, for L.A.'s Civic Light Opera, in 1954.

COME UP. Our favorite theater historian, Joseph T. Shipley, once wrote the following about "Diamond Lil": "On opening night, detectives lurked about while Mae West wore more than a million dollars worth of diamonds. Then they were safely carted back to storage, where it is perhaps time the play joined them."

That's exactly what did happen, but "Diamond Lil" is making a comeback at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre. It will play Jan. 27-March 19. Gretchen Wyler will play Lil.

OH, NO. Variety reports that "Oh! Calcutta!" is gaining on "A Chorus Line" as the longest-running Broadway musical of all time. "A Chorus Line" was still ahead at last count, 5,169 performances to 5,098. But "Oh! Calcutta" gives 10 shows a week next to "A Chorus Line's" eight, so it pulls two performances closer every seven days. Can't something be done about this?

PFFT. Gordon Davidson of the Mark Taper Forum reports that he isn't going to be directing Flora the Elephant at the Spoleto U.S.A. Festival this spring, after all. Artistic differences were not involved--just money. The two hope to work together again.

IN QUOTES. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, heroine of the Broadway musical "Teddy and Alice": "If you can't say anything good about someone, sit right here by me."

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