Thursday, October 1, 2015

Who Was Nell Gwyn?

Eleanor "Nell" Gwyn (2 February 1650 – 14 November 1687; also spelled GwynnGwynne) was a long-time mistress of King Charles II of England and Scotland. Called "pretty, witty Nell" by Samuel Pepys, she has been regarded as a living embodiment of the spirit of RestorationEngland and has come to be considered a folk heroine, with a story echoing the rags-to-royalty tale of Cinderella. She was the most famous Restoration actress and possessed a prodigious comic talent. Gwyn had two sons by King Charles: Charles Beauclerk (1670–1726); and James Beauclerk (1671–1680). The surname of her sons is pronounced 'Bo-Clare'. Charles was created Earl of Burford and later Duke of St. Albans.

In her early teens, Nell Gwyn was engaged to sell oranges at the King's Theatre. Her natural wit and complete lack of self-consciousness caught the eye of the actor Charles Hart and others, and Dryden wrote plays to exploit her talents as a comic actress.
She became Charles Hart's mistress, she called him Charles the First, and was then passed to Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, whom she dubbed Charles the Second, and later the King, calling him her Charles the Third.
Lady Castlemaine (Barbara Palmer) had been King Charles' mistress for many years when he became enamoured of Nell.
"Pray good people be civil, I am the Protestant whore" was Nell Gwyn's cheeky retort to the masses pushing around her coach in the mistaken belief that it was that of the Duchess of Portsmouth, the Catholic Louise de Keroualle, one of Charles' other mistresses.
Unlike Charles' other mistresses, Nell never received a title herself, but by using clever tactics she obtained a title for her son.
"Come here you little bastard" she is reputed to have said to her small son in the Kings presence. The King was horrified, but as Nell asked, "what should she call him, was not bastard true?" The King immediately made him Duke of St. Albans.
When the King died in 1685 Nell's creditors descended upon her - she never did starve, but was in grave danger of being sent to a Debtors prison. She appealed to King James and to his credit, he settled her immediate debts and gave her a pension of £1500 a year.
James asked in return that her son should become a Catholic but James was to be disappointed.
Nell survived Charles by only two years and was only in her thirties when she died. She became a legend, the only royal mistress in English history to provoke popular affection.

Who Was King Charles II?

Early Life 

Charles II was born in St. James’s Palace in London, England, on May 29, 1630. Signs of political turmoil were on the horizon in England. Two years prior, his father, King Charles I, had reluctantly agreed to the passage of the Petition of Right, which placed limits on the king’s authority.

In 1642, civil war broke out between Parliament and Charles I over his claim of divine right to rule. By the end of the decade, Parliament, led by the Puritan Oliver Cromwell, was victorious. Young Charles II fled to France, and Charles I was executed in 1649.

During the 11-year period of Interregnum, Charles was forbidden from being crowned king. Supporters in Scotland offered him the throne if he supported home rule. Inexperienced and untested in battle, Charles led a force into England but was quickly defeated at the Battle of Worcester, in 1651. Charles fled to the continent and spent nearly a decade in exile, forced to move from one country to another due to Cromwell’s reach.

The Restoration

The English republican government collapsed following Cromwell’s death in 1658, and Charles was reinstated to the throne in 1661. In his restoration agreement with Parliament, he was given a standing army and allowed to purge officials responsible for his father’s execution. In exchange, Charles II agreed to honor the Petition of Right and accept a limited income. The early years of Charles' reign was marked by a terrible plague (1655) and the Great Fire of London (1666) which led to a substantial rebuild of the city of London. He also went to war with the Dutch (1665-1667) which resulted in a Dutch victory and led to Charles' alliance with France. In general, Charles' reign was marked by tolerance - both for the people who overthrew his father and for varying religious factions.

By this point, Charles was cynical and self-indulgent, less skilled in governing than in surviving adversity. Like his father, he believed he possessed the divine right to rule, but unlike Charles I, he didn’t make it his priority. The Royal Court was notorious for its wine, women and song, and Charles became known as the “Merry Monarch” for his indulgence in hedonistic pleasures.

Later Years

In 1670, Charles signed a treaty with French King Louis XIV in which he agreed to convert to Catholicism and support France’s war against the Dutch in return for subsidies. The French assistance allowed him a little more breathing room in his dealings with Parliament.

Charles’s wife, Queen Catherine, failed to produce a male heir, although he had many sons by a number of mistresses, and by 1677 many feared his Catholic brother, James, Duke of York, would assume the throne. To appease the public, Charles arranged for his niece, Mary, to wed the Protestant William of Orange.

A year later, the “Popish Plot” to assassinate the king emerged. Further investigation revealed no conspiracy existed, but anti-Catholic hysteria in Parliament led to false accusations against Charles’s chief advisor, Lord Danby. Tired of the conflict, Charles dissolved Parliament in 1679 and ruled alone for his remaining years.

On his death bed, Charles finally went through with his promise to convert to Catholicism, angering many of his subjects. He passed away in London’s Whitehall Palace on February 6, 1685.


King Charles II and his wife Catherine left a lasting impact on both England and the world. Catherine is credited with making tea a popular drink in England. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was named for Charles as it was the lapdog of choice in his reign. Part of Catherine's dowry included the Seven Islands of Bombay. Charles II rented out the land to the East India Company which took up headquarters there and resulted in Bombay becoming the dominant city in India and started the colonization of India by the British.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Director Vera Sloan's Thoughts on Or,

“Our play will shortly ricochet between a dense array of seeming opposites:
Spy or poetess, actress or whore
Male or female, straight or gay—or both
Wrong or righteous, treacherous or true
Lust or love, cheap hackney trash or art
Now or then, a distant fervent age
Or this, our time of mingled hope and fear.
And yet despite all seeming diff’rences
Those ors divide less than they subtly link
And what seem opposite and all at odds
Are in their deepest nature most the same.”

When I first read the lines above in Or, I recognized that Liz Duffy Adams' story of the delightfully revolutionary Aphra Behn, amid its poetry and comedy and eroticism, is also a play about all of the deeply human, potentially world-changing beauty of quantum physics (stay with me, drama majors!).

Human beings love neat little boxes. We find comfort in the tidiness of everyone being one thing or the other, and we have an affinity for the belief that the past is reassuringly distant and pleasant, always a “simpler time.” But those ideas are comfortable illusions. Astrophysicists have begun to offer explanations of truths that artists have long understood – time is not linear, and all dichotomies are false. The past is right now, and all of the aspects of who we are, even those that seem contradictory, are simultaneously true. When we explore stories and people of by-gone eras, we can choose to revel in nostalgia, distancing ourselves from a romanticized idea of who people were then. Or, we can choose instead to fully embrace how much all of us, across time and borders and desires, are truly the same.

“We are all made of star stuff,” in the words of Carl Sagan. “We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden” in the words of Joni Mitchell. If they are both right (and they are), and if all of the emotional contradictions and complexities of human beings haven't changed much since Aphra Behn took London by storm in the 1660's (and they haven't), then what do both art and science have to tell us about ourselves and everyone else on the planet? I hope that you see something of yourself tonight on this stage, even though the people you'll see may not immediately seem to be much like you at all. I hope that this reminds you, as it always reminds me, of how deeply similar you must be to people from other places, or of unfamiliar faiths, or who simply live or love a bit differently than you do. That's one of my favorite things about this work and this play, and I'm thrilled to bits that you're here to share in that.

-Vera Sloan

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Who Is Liz Duffy Adams?

Liz Duffy Adams is originally from Ipswitch, Massachussets and holds a dual American and Irish citizenship. She has a BFA from NYU's Experimental Theater Wing, and an MFA in Playwriting from Yale School of Drama. Ms. Adams was the 2012–2013 Briggs-Copeland Visiting Lecturer in Playwriting at Harvard University.
In 2012, she was awarded the "Women of Achievement Award" from the Women's Project Theater. She’s also received a 2010 Lily Award and a 2008 Weston Playhouse Music-Theatre Award, the 2005 Will Glickman Playwright Award from Theatre Bay Area, among others.
Ms. Adams also an alumna of New Dramatists (2001-2008). Other notable New Dramatists playwrights include Annie Baker, Sarah Ruhl, Lynn Nottage, Jen Silverman, Julia Cho, Qui Nguyen, and Kate Fodor, so she’s in fairly illustrious company.

Or, premiered Off Broadway at Women’s Project Theater and has been produced numerous times since, including at the Magic Theater and Seattle Rep.