Tuesday, September 28, 2010


"Orlando" at Classic Stage Company, September 21, 2010

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Virginia Woolf's tale of an Elizabethan nobleman, who lives as a man until age 30, then wakes from a 6 month coma to find he has become a woman who lives another 370 years without aging comes to Classic Stage Company care of Sarah Ruhl.  It's an aggressive challenge to take on a work that Ms. Ruhl herself describes as "...language...so exquisite it would have seemed like a terrible bastardization to just leave the narration behind and make up dialog."  Despite the over theatricality of the novel's premise, that quality doesn't guarantee great theatre.  Ms. Ruhl, in apparent deference to Ms. Woolf's erudition, gives us an evening that is part acting, part exposition where the characters recite their activities in third person more often that portraying a role.  In the end, it feels more like a writing exercise than a play.

The performers are, however, committed fully and this eclectic cast does their best to rise to the challenge.  Francesca Faridany gives a true image of Orlando as a callow youth, carrying the discomfort through the transformation from man to woman, though the full nudity that ends Act 1 seemed completely gratuitous when a mere revelation of the curve of her breast and hip could have communicated the transformation equally.  The three-man ensemble of David Greenspan, Tom Nelis and Howard Overshown ebb and flow in their effectiveness portraying the various characters both male and female including Queen Elizabeth (Mr. Greenspan) and the man Orlando eventually marries (Mr. Nelis).

Visually, the production is excellent.  Allen Moyer's lush green lawn platform, accented with gilt chairs and an oversized ceiling mirror reflects Christopher Akerlind's thoughtful lighting.  I particularly liked Anita Yavich's costume concept which suggested the various periods of history in a timeless white palette, accented by simple add-ons (or not so simple for Queen Elizabeth).

Director Rebecca Taichman, a frequent collaborator with Ms. Ruhl tries to play along, bringing in some clumsily executed choreography from Annie Parsons, but the results are less than successful.

"Orlando" runs through October 17, 2010

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