Nell Gwynn is so breezy it almost floats away


Despite the best efforts of Chicago Shakespeare, the story lacks purpose.

In this breezy, quasi-feminist 2015 historical comedy, based on the unlikely life of the titular 17th-century folk heroine—who, upon her death at age 37, had gone from prostitute to celebrated actress to favored mistress of King Charles II—British playwright Jessica Swale manages to make a two-and-a-half-hour play feel like a sketch. Her problematic strategy is apparent in the opening minutes, as mouthy Nell, selling oranges in what we’re asked to believe is the theater in which we’re all sitting and where a play has just started, is plucked from the stalls by renowned actor Charles Hart, smitten by her “cheek,” and given a crash course in emotive acting.…

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