Sex, Spies, & Suriname
Ever since moving to Philadelphia, I have performed in the fringe festival every season. This year, I decided to take the summer off – hopefully get some time at the shore and be able to see more fringe shows than usual. Although I kept to the letter of my self-imposed vacation law, I couldn't quite say no to a whole summer free of theatre.
June brought the world premiere of Andrea Kennedy Hart’s The Toughest Boy in Philadelphia, and with it, the wonderful opportunity to work with Iron Age for the first time. It tells the true story of “Whistling Jack” McConnell, the Irish mobster who rose through the ranks of Philadelphia’s organized crime culture for years before admitting that he was born Florence Gray. According to papers at the time, he revealed his background at a paternity case by pleading, “Not guilty, your honor – I’m a girl myself.”
I later found a loophole in my fringe-free summer by heading down to DC for the Capital Fringe with Forearmed Production’s Empress of the Moon: The Lives of Aphra Behn at the beautiful Atlas Performing Arts Center. Chris Braak’s play imagines the early life of the first professional woman writer in English literature. Before she ever penned any of the works that made her famous for exploring colonialism, race, and female sexuality, she worked as a spy for the British crown. The play also interweaves elements of her (possibly apocryphal) biography that includes years spent in Suriname in South America, which may have influenced her most famous novel Oroonoko.
Her sexually frank work, considered scandalous during her lifetime, opened doors for generations of writers who followed her: