The Orange Person
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 19, 2012
There's something quintessentially American about The Orange Person, a celebration of individuality, small town life, and joyful story-telling created by Jeremy Bloom, Laura Dunn, and Brian Rady. Structurally it reminded me a lot of Once (which it pre-dates, by the way), using a gathering of minstrels and musicians as a framework to unfold its imaginative, singular story: the simple informality of the piece reinforces its themes and never feels false or ingenuous or precious. Bloom, who directs, informs us at the beginning that the company is doing this show for fun, and there was never a moment when I doubted him. (Though it's to be hoped that this remarkable work can bring these artists some more tangible rewards as well!)
The story is about a boy, Sam, whose skin is a bright, glowing orange. This is how he has always been, since birth, though no one knows why. He grows up in a remote West Texas town in a desert whose sunbaked landscape provides a kind of camouflage; but his otherness is always (literally) right on the surface. His mother, Jan, saves up all the money she can to pay for an operation that may make him "normal." His Aunt Joan, who owns the house where he and his family live, urges him to stay indoors until he's "cured." A nosy neighbor kid, Billy, stares at him through his binoculars (which he also uses to spy on a trio of sunbathing sisters).
Sam's tale could easily devolve into heavy-handed sermonizing or allegory, but Bloom, Dunn, and Rady never take it in either of those directions. Instead, they place Sam at the center of a larger story about the whole town and its mythic way of life. Most of the story is told in song—country-inflected ballads with titles like "The Land of What Can't Be Explained," "Pumpkin Pie," and "In the Desert Night" that capture the characters' feelings and the Texas landscape with lyrical beauty and poetic precision.
Bloom's direction is masterful and filled with lovely imagery; he keeps the piece fluid and dynamic while letting the music breathe and dominate as it must. Several of the performers double as singers and musicians: co-authors Rady (as Sam) and Dunn (who plays Sam's friend Kay) play guitar and banjo, respectively; Kirk Siee (bass), Joe White (electric guitar), and Ellen O'Meara (flute, gloc) have smaller roles while anchoring the onstage band. Ashley Biel, Dana Kaplan-Angle, and Robert Gadol Lavenstein play important people in Sam's life. Madalyn McKay and Jose Paz are delightfully ingratiating and lively as Aunt Joan and Billy. Catherine Brookman is appropriately ephemeral as Jan, who dies while Sam is still a boy.
The Orange Person is joyous and touching and full of life, love, and hope. It's very much the kind of show Americans need these days to remind us who we are and what we value. Even though the denizens of this show are sometimes small-minded and backward, the way they care for one another and help one another feels grand. And the infectious high spirits that this company brings to sharing this story with their audience are downright inspirational.