The Rover is a seventeenth-century play by Aphra Behn, the English language’s first professional female writer. I wrote a new adaptation of The Rover and directed it for The Chance Theater in Anaheim; the production ran in January and February of 2005. That April, we remounted the production for a live television broadcast on KOCE, Orange County’s PBS affiliate. DVD footage is available, and KOCE has been rebroadcasting it every now and then.
I had been thinking about adapting The Rover for a few years before the gang at The Chance took me up on it. They provided me with a great space and a fantastic team. Here’s the blurb:
An audacious new take on a classic story about a young girl who uses her wits and imagination to escape her fate, defeat her rivals, and win a hard-fought battle of love. This bawdy, rowdy seventeenth-century romp by the English language’s first professional woman writer is boldly reimagined in this World Premiere staging at The Chance.
The adaptation mostly uses Behn’s dialogue, with some clips taken from her sources and a couple of other plays — the idea is not unlike my “Remix” of Henry IV. The big change, however, is that four young women play all the roles. The idea here is that Behn’s play is about (among other themes) the power of the imagination. The young heroine of The Rover uses imagination to escape a bad situation, to outwit her enemies, and to win her man, and she does this primarily by dressing up in costumes. In the adaptation, four teenage girls act out the story during a slumber party, using their imaginations to deal with the complications of their friendships, to outdo one another, and to explore their fears and dreams about growing up and falling in love.
Another production of the adaptation was mounted early in 2006 at the Dallas Hub Theatre in Texas, directed by Christie Shane. The Dallas Morning News says “Updated Rover rolls with youthful charm.”
If you are a potential producer (or potential employer) and this adaptation sounds interesting, please contact me (joshcostello at gmail dot com) to request a script or additional information. I’m very interested in directing this play again.
“A teenage girls’ slumber party is one of the least likely places to find Restoration drama, but director Josh Costello’s adaptation of Aphra Behn’s The Rover finds its voice again in Orange County… Costello’s work excels in his use of the young girls, whose budding interest in courtship and sex takes centerstage… One of the silliest but most effective conceits is to have the girls use stuffed animals and Barbie dolls to represent collateral characters. They rouse the audience to laughter more than once as Ken and Barbie act out an amusing striptease or a big fluffy dog gesticulates with nuanced motions. This largely collegiate-aged quartet manages to be both worldly and unsophisticated, and it comes off very well. Masako Tobaru’s lighting is effective, as her combination of subdued and key lights change moods… Jeremy Golden’s large double-decker bunk bed is a successful bit of set design, allowing varied pairings of the cast. Kudos, too, for Christopher Villa’s fight direction, as the characters wield umbrellas, canes, and toy swords in well-choreographed skirmishes. Adaptations can be successful or clunkers, as many directors have found, but this one is inventive and pleasurable, showcasing Behn’s sharp wit and Costello’s inspired imagination…”
“Rover speaks, glowingly… Josh Costello’s ingenious spin on Aphra Behn’s Restoration Comedy The Rover is anything but sleazy or lowbrow. It’s actually quite innocent. Charming even… Costello actually trusts the script to support his vision… the way Costello relates the story — through a quirky game of charades that slowly evolves into a metaphor on how imagination can bring people together — results in one of the cleverest and most well-intentioned plays in some time…Costello’s highly talented and incredibly enthusiastic cast — Alex Bueno, Emily Clark, Vanessa Martinez and Barbara Suiter — provide an esprit de corps that infuses the 90-minute play with an energy too seldom experienced on local stages. With so much theater so self-important and posturingly pompous, it’s refreshing to see something intentionally light that still manages to make a keen point about how imagination can heal as much as it can distract.”
The New Mermaids edition
of The Rover
edited by Robyn Bolam (2005)
The final section of the Introduction is “The Play In Performance,” ending with this paragraph:
Over ten years later, The Rover’s appeal appears to be undiminished with numerous performances worldwide in 2005. One of the more innovative of these was an adaptation by Josh Costello, who also directed it for the Chance Theater in Anaheim, California. In this, Behn’s play (with some cuts, a few lines from Thomaso, and even a couple from Shakespeare’s plays in the introduction) was enacted by four 15 year old girls on a sleepover or slumber party, who used their imaginations and what they had on hand – a dressing-up chest and some dolls and puppets. Their skilled manipulation of the latter unexpectedly brought Don Pedro to life as a dog with long drooping ears and a serious expression, while Barbie and Ken dolls were effectively used to dramatize Blunt’s encounter with Lucetta. Alex Bueno, Emily Clark, Vanessa Martinez and Barbara Suiter leapt in and out of their shared bunk beds (poised on top of low bookshelves), donning masks, wigs, and makeshift costumes to transport their audience back to Behn’s time, occasionally breaking the spell to demonstrate the way in which the girls were taken over by their imaginations. Despite the lively humour that that pervaded this production and the all-female cast, the potential threat of rape in III.v was menacingly conveyed. In its novel exploration of gender roles and the female imagination, Costello’s thought-provoking adaptation marks another successful transformation of The Rover on the contemporary stage.