nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
September 22, 2010
Orlando is a very pretty production, from the flowery text to the flowing dresses and crisp white uniforms, the draped fabric to the sounds of dropping rain and the green grass covering the stage. Sarah Ruhl's adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel about a man who wakes one morning to discover he is now a woman is cleanly and expertly presented by director Rebecca Taichman. If you like Woolf's style of writing then you are sure to like this production.
Orlando is written in narration, not dialogue. Our Hero-turned-Heroine often talks about him/herself in the third person, and always in a poetic stream of consciousness. An ensemble of three men serve as narrators and also step in to portray certain characters—the Queen of England, Orlando's lovers, etc. The story begins in the 16th century. The young Orlando is picked out by Queen Elizabeth who sees something special in him and she takes him under her wing. He leads a privileged life, and blossoms into quite a playboy, all the while wishing to be a poet. When a frost covers London, he meets the beautiful Sasha, the daughter of Russian royalty, and the two carry on a passionate love affair. Time passes but Orlando does not age. One day in Constantinople, Orlando goes to sleep a he and wakes up a she. Centuries pass.
Nothing is surprising in the world of Orlando—not Orlando's sudden change of sex nor the fact that he/she apparently lives for centuries—every event is taken in stride and the play retains its dreamlike evenness throughout. While this consistency of tone is certainly admirable, it does become somewhat monotonous at points—we get lulled by the evenness of voice and movement and style.
Francesca Faridany is strong as Orlando, highlighting the characteristics of a human that transcend gender, though her vocal variation (most all of her lines are delivered as poetic proclamations) is sometimes disengaging. Annika Boras is exotic and mysterious as Sasha. David Greenspan, Tom Nelis, and Howard Overshown make up the ensemble. Nelis, a founding member of the SITI Company, is a particularly impressive actor, enacting the choreography, text, and characters with precision and grace.
Director Rebecca Taichman has done an impressive job of doing a great deal with very little, as seen in the sparse movement of her actors and in the design elements. Allen Moyer's set design is simple yet lovely—grass covers the stage floor, a large piece of fabric becomes an ocean and a queen's costume appears from nowhere. Anita Yavich's costumes are beautiful, Victorian with a hint of the modern. Christopher Akerlind's lighting design transforms the space, taking us from London to Constantinople, through frosts and seas.
Orlando is about the spirit of the times: we watch the world change as, aside from a little gender bending, our main character does not. It is about taking over 300 years to write a poem.