Jeremy Mahr seems to be dancing with his dialogue as Willmore, the titular character in the Prenzie Players' The Rover. Author Aphra Behn's words trip the light fantastic off his tongue, with Mahr presenting his rakish playboy so playfully that it's as though he's fluent in the stylized, 17th Century language of the period. And when the meaning of what he's saying is expressed through his entire body - particularly during Willmore's more amorous lines - the obviously fully invested Mahr is incredibly fun to watch.
There's a particular, fully amusing moment here that exemplifies the tone of his characterization, when Mahr, in one fluid move, grabs a beer from under a bench while spinning 360 degrees and descending to a seated, side-saddle position. But this kind of playful suaveness inhabits Mahr's entire performance as a man who, during carnival season in Naples, falls in love with Diane Emmert's Hellena - prior to her brother's imposed imprisonment of her in a convent - and also wins the love of Maggie Woolley's Angelica, a beautiful and well-known courtesan.
There's not much that's subtle about director Stephanie Burrough's telling of this tale, starting with Emmert's exaggerated enunciation - and the matching physical interpretations of her words - in the opening scene. And many of the other actors here match this style of voicing and playing Behn's characters with similar broadness. Yet while their efforts sometimes border on overacting, they land on the comedic side of acceptability, as The Rover is, after all, a comedy - and a rather crass one at that.
Woolley, as usual, drips with sexuality, from her sultry alto voice to her sensual demeanor to - why not? - her pole dance, one that elicited applause during Friday's performance. When Woolley and Mahr share the stage, just the two of them, they create that which I most love about theatre: the undeniable invitation to escape into a dream world. There's a magic in their chemistry that adds credibility to their staged infatuation, and I was lost in their moments together just as much as Woolley and Mahr appeared lost in each other's eyes.
The characters' affections, however, are fleeting, as Willmore quickly returns his attention and love to Hellena, prompting Angelica to vow revenge. But as serious as that sounds, there are more laugh-worthy moments in Burrough's piece than tragic, or even romantic, ones. In one of the best, following Willmore's liaison with Angelica, he's approached by a masked Hellena, pressing the need for him to remove the evidence of his recent actions - namely, Angelica's lipstick - quickly. This causes Andy Koski's Frederick to rush to wipe the stains from his friend Willmore's forehead, lips, and neck, with Koski, at his most hysterical, attempting to mask what he's doing by leaning on Mahr's shoulder with a Cheshire-cat grin on his face.
It is Reader employee Mike Schulz, however, who gets to be a part of Burrough's funniest scene, during which Schulz's dippy Blunt is convinced that a woman he's just met loves him, not knowing she's a prostitute. Blunt's struggle to quickly undress elicits loud laughter, which is prolonged when he tries out several seductive poses while Catie Osborn's Lucetta, in the next room, slips into something more comfortable. The most nuanced moment in Schulz's performance, though, comes when Blunt tells his friends of his newfound love; with excitement in the actor's voice and a twinkle in his eye, he delivers undertones of naÃƒÂ¯ve love and childlike wonder.
In another subplot, Cole McFarren offers an earnest portrayal of Belville, the friend of Frederick and Blunt who loves Hellena's sister Florinda, played with equal sincerity, and dashes of innocence and hope, by Kathleen Isreal. And Florinda, we discover, is betrothed to Don Antonio, a character that showcases Patrick Gimm's ability to wear pompous class believably and well.
At almost three hours in length including its intermission, The Rover does feel a bit long, particularly in the final scenes that find Behn wrapping up her storylines. However, under Burrough's direction, the Prenzie Players bring quite a bit of laughter to those hours - inducing more than a few really hearty laughs - along the way.
The Rover runs at the QC Theatre Workshop (1730 Wilkes Avenue, Davenport) through October 28, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)278-8426 or visiting PrenziePlayers.com.