Hale’s Debut Play Aphra Behn: Wanton. Wit. Woman. Showcases the Life of Writer, Aphra Behn, and Her Role on Women
Aphra Behn: Wanton. Wit. Woman. is a 75-minute production by playwright Mariah Anzaldo Hale that pays homage to the little-known legend, Aphra Behn. Behn was a playwright, poet, novelist and spy for King Charles II during the Anglo-Dutch war. This play examines the captivating life that Behn led through dialog, movement, and music. She was the first woman to make a living as a professional writer in Restoration London during this time-period, trailing a path for women through her scandalous and exhilarating life.
Through the creation of this debut play, Hale combines her love for women’s history and theatre. Hale is a writer, historian and costume designer who has obtained a career in costume design for both theater and film, where her designs can be found on and off Broadway and in VOGUE magazine. Hale decided to do extensive research on Aphra Behn after receiving a journal from her daughter with Behn’s photo on it, resulting in Hale’s desire to create her own project as a costume designer. Not only was her play created to tell the story of a trailblazer’s vivacity but also to educate the audience on the roles of women, both past and present.
Specifically, Hale’s goal with this series was to provide a “femme-adventure play which not only takes us on [Behn’s] many exploits but also examines women’s roles then and now,” she continues to explain the play’s significance, “and challenges how she’s been written out of history by ‘learned’ men [who’ve] taken credit for her philosophies, ideas and innovations.”
In order to bring this goal to life, Hale collaborated with UofSC Theater and Dance as well as Full Circle Productions. When director Robert Richmond heard of Hale’s Aphra Behn series, he invited Hale to expand her work into a play using the grant Full Circle won for the Incubator Program at Harbison Theater.
Executive Director of Harbison Theater, Kristin Cobb shares that “the Incubator Program has been in place at Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College for over 5 years now. The idea behind the initiative is to give local artists a professional venue to launch new work, with the potential to eventually tour,”
Cobb continues to explain the Incubator Program in regard to Aphra Behn: “This has been a wonderful collaborative effort with Robert Richmond and the UofSC Theatre Department as well. It is part of our mission here at Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College to support local artists, and to showcase their work on our wonderful stage.”
Other Full Circle member, Linsday Rae Taylor, was brought on to direct the play. Taylor is a third-year MFA candidate at the University of South Carolina who has directed productions such as UofSC’s The Wolves, Sense and Sensibility and Trustus Theatre’s Hir, among others.
For Taylor, this play was special to her from the moment she read the script: “If you open a theatre history book and look up Aphra Behn, who was essentially the first female playwright, you will only find two or three sentences about her. We know very little about her, as she was kept hidden while the men of her time are documented and celebrated. This is an opportunity to learn about an extraordinary woman who lived an extraordinary life. We hope that, if you come see the play, it may prompt you to find out more about her.”
While directing the play, Taylor points out that one of her biggest challenges related to the development of this production is fitting an entire existence with so many details into a tightly focused narrative, where discovering a main focus is important to fit into their chosen time-span of 75 minutes.
“Developing a play takes a lot of time. Most plays take years to realize before going into performance, so this process feels truncated in that regard,” Taylor explains overcoming the challenges, “Aphra Behn lived such an interesting life, so it has been challenging trying to edit and discover how to focus the story.”
Of course, there is no play without actors, and this one is cast with undergrad and MFA acting students. Third-year MFA student Leslie Valdez is playing the role of Behn, and others include Susan Swavely, Reilly Lucas, Sean Ardo, Luliia Khamidullina, William Hollerung and Full Circles Production member, Katrina Blanding.
While getting all these elements together was challenging, it was worth it for Hale and Taylor. One of the most important parts of this play for the women is that it is particularly relevant to today’s culture. As Hale states, “[Behn] was a fascinating woman 100 years ahead of her time, and we should all know who she was and what she’s done for us”
For Taylor, it is their “aim for audiences to witness ‘flashes’ of events in Aphra Behn’s life and understand her in a new way. She was fighting the same battles that women are fighting today,” she continues to passionately describe the importance of the show, “we hope that it will ignite a feminist fire in both women and men, and that it will inspire us all to uncover more women’s stories that have been shrouded by history.”
In the end, with a ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up’ theme, Aphra Behn: Wanton. Wit. Woman is essential to our culture. It is important to the voices that today’s feminism have created for each of us individually.
“I want us to leave the theater with more questions than answers,” Hale states on the end desire of her Aphra Behn series, “It’s funny. It’s sexy. It means something.”
Aphra Behn: Wanton. Wit. Woman. premiered on April 13th at Harbison Theater.
Following the premiere, you can then view the play at Uof SC’s Center for Performance Experiment every night at 8:00 p.m. from the 21st – 28th of April. Tickets are only $10 and are available at www.theatre.sc.edu.
Follow The Jasper Project on Facebook and on Instagram @the_jasper_project
for more updates on local artists and events!