A Thief for Our Hearts

London’s eccentric thief Mary Frith wore men’s clothing and was supposedly known to be a pimp, pickpocket and reseller of stolen goods. She gained the nickname “Moll Cutpurse” after being arrested for stealing purses. Her reputation inspired playwrights Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker to create their comedy The Roaring Girl during the Jacobean era (1567–1625). The title is borrowed from young, drunk men who were called “roaring boys,” and they would pick fights on the streets. The Roaring Girl is filled with campy sexual innuendos and manipulative characters who challenge our cultural beliefs about gender roles, marriage and status.

In this fictionalized dramatization of Mary Frith’s life, Sebastian Wengrave (Jacob Owen) attempts to trick his greedy father Sir Alexander Wengrave (Matt Walker) into allowing him to marry his true love Mary Fitzallard (Anna Clare Kerr). Mary’s dowry is too small to meet Sir Alexander’s demands and he threatens to cut Sebastian out of the family. Sebastian tries to outwit his father by pretending to be in love with infamous thief Moll Cutpurse (Malloree Hill) so that his father will eventually prefer to have Mary as his daughter-in-law, and not an outcast. Sebastian’s plot is thwarted when Sir Alexander has whimsical Ralph Trapdoor (Max Hunter) spy on Moll. Sir Alexander unsuccessfully tries to have Moll steal diamonds so that he can frame her. Moll is too savvy and does not take the bait, and later unmasks Trapdoor when he pretends to be a wounded soldier.

Deceit and seduction are also played out in two other parallel stories about marriage. Laxton (Joel DeCandio) and Goshawk (Ryan Mills) both pursue taking advantage of two married women whose husbands eventually get involved. The ploys and subject matter from this era have withheld time and still translate to modern culture. The test of one’s character ultimately holds more weight than appearances and titles in this production.

After stepping off of a noisy downtown street and walking up four flights of stairs you will find yourself in a cozy space decorated with a rainbow carnival canopy. The warm hardwood floors are inviting as you find your seat at a red jazz club table and play with colorful feathers in glass bowls. There are amusing table signs with written tips for comprehending a Jacobean joke: “If you think it’s about sex, it is,” and “If you don’t think it’s about sex, it still is.” The actors suddenly appear from behind you and they will even put their feet up at your table without asking first. Director Anaïs Koivisto and this youthful, vibrant cast also bring choreographed sword fights and group brawls in beautiful period costumes.

The show runs for two hours and 15 minutes with a 10-minute intermission and might occur as long at first. There was a slight dead period right before the opening and the audience members were left waiting and wondering. However, the live singing, group dancing, and guitar and drum playing, will keep you entertained throughout the entire show.

Hunter consistently provides the needed stamina and physical comedy required to perform as foolish Trapdoor, and he becomes a guiding light throughout this production. His energy is complimented when he teams up with Gull (Quinn Warren) as a disguised soldier. The spunk and moxie that Warren brings to feisty Gull can be summed up when she says, “I am call'd by those that have seen my valour, Tearcat.” At times, Hill lacks the same level of power as the heroine Moll to carry out this show. She does capture some of the masculine characteristics of Moll, such as her stance, and she maneuvers through the sword fights with ease and grace. When challenged or questioned about Moll's reputation, Hill’s facial expressions appeared quietly surprised and passive. It could be more fitting for Hill to not avoid Moll’s defiant history, and instead own her past. If Moll were alive today, she would probably be living her life as she wished and have little or no regard for laws, social norms or being politically correct.

The Everyday Inferno Theatre Company delivers on their commitment to provide classic material to a wide audience while maintaining low production costs in The Roaring Girl. This production is one of two plays in a rotating repertory called Punks & Provocateurs. For those who appreciate Shakespeare and are interested in a sexy alternative, The Roaring Girl is worth your attention. It is not an everyday occurrence to experience Middleton and Dekker’s witty material performed in an intimate and unimposing downtown setting with an eager ensemble.

The Roaring Girl runs until June 21 at the Access Theater (380 Broadway between White and Walker Sts.) in Manhattan. Evening performances are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and matinee performances are Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased by visiting punksandprovocateurs.bpt.me or by calling 347-291-1805.

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