ORLANDOadapted by Sarah Ruhl from the novel by Virginia Woolf
Directed by Garrett Storms and Jim Covault
Set Design - Jim Covault
Costumes - Michael Robinson / Dallas Costume Shoppe
Props and Set Décor - Lynn Lovett
Lighting Design - Michael O'Brien
Orlando - Anastasia Muñoz
Sasha - Katherine Bourne
Chorus - Nick Moore / Stephen Rosenberger / Mark Shum
Reviewed Performance: 4/11/2014
Reviewed by Michala Perreault, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
So begins the lyrical swirl that is the tale of Virginia Woolf's precious, gender-fluid Orlando. Woolf's 1928 panegyric to beloved companion Victoria Sackville-West was brought to film in 1992 (Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane and the incomparably enigmatic Quentin Crisp), but has found the stage only recently in Sarah Ruhl's 2010 adaptation.
To capture such a story well in a time slot digestible by a modern audience presents a true challenge. Orlando spans nearly 400 years: charged by Queen Elizabeth on her deathbed, "Do not fade. Do not wither. Do not die," a charming and youthful English nobleman obeys - and never ages. Woolf's loving narrative enrapts the reader instantly. Taking the voyeur's seat to Orlando's litany of romantic conquests and entanglements, we sigh at the aged Queen's doting, chuckle at the young man's skill in balancing three potentials -including a fiancée - feel the painful crush of Orlando's first betrayal at the hands of the entrancing Russian princess Sasha, moved that, across the centuries, the depth of true love seems to sadly elude him.
Having endured two centuries of dreary English climate, newly appointed - and still seemingly ageless - ambassador to Istanbul Orlando feasts upon all new delights of pleasure - but remains curiously unfulfilled. Until one night in the Sultan's palace he falls into a deep, deep sleep. A violent uprising topples the country around him, but Orlando will not be roused by himself or by servants. Several days later he awakens from the tumult to discover: He is now a She.
Thechallenge continues, as Ruhl's adaptation heavily favors the narrative style of the novel over the created dialogue of the film. How to transform from a potential reading into a play?
Enter the magic touch of director Jim Covault. Long a pillar of the Fort Worth theatre community, Covault possesses a refined talent for weaving fiction with question, enticing us to cross the threshold into the gossamer of our imagination. A deliberately limited set opens the canvas to paint the story in our minds. Props stashed conveniently for the actors' momentary use, a pair of mobile platforms at opposing heights create the field of the oak tree, the Queen's boudoir, the skating pas de deux on the Thames, Sultan's palace, a tossing ocean voyage, Shelmerdine's embrace - and the pièce de résistance: the transformation of Orlando.
Michael O'Brien's lighting deepens the illusion as we "see" the sunlight on the grass beneath the oak tree, the frozen surface of the Thames, the fog and darkness as the Russian ambassador's ship departs, and a deftly wielded scrim, backlit on an otherwise darkened stage shows us in tasteful yet crystal clear detail the moment of Orlando's evolution into womanhood.
As the adapted script borrows from both novel and film versions, the constant that saves us from the potential drone of characters narrating their lives more than portraying them is the production's homage to Woolf's unbridled and unforgiving wit. At once subtle and blatant, Woolf's harsh diatribe of the contrived limitations of gender via societal & legal convention leaps to the fore,and is delivered deliciously by talented performers.
Katherine Bourne ignores the sweet-girl Sasha of the film and harkens back to the rich, deep, almost masculinity seductive Sasha of Woolf's creation. Sasha - a princess bearing a masculine Russian name - is the first woman to confound Orlando. She is powerful, smooth, unpredictable - completely unlike English girls Orlando has met, including the Queen, who courted for his affections. At first sight Orlando is transfixed by the powerful figure cutting a blade on the frozen Thames, identity shadowed by a large fur hat and heavy cloak. Neither Orlando nor his companions can tell, is the skilled skater a man or a woman? The pendulous cloak by costumer Michael Robinson is a ruse and a prop: it aids the slow, weighty sweep of Sasha's androgynous gait and coupled with Bourne's throaty Russian accentuation, her portrayal of Sasha is irresistible.
Anastasia Muñoz achieves the curious balance of Orlando, taking it to the edge without tipping over the top. Muñoz skillfully avoids the cartoony quality often suffered when actresses attempt male characters. Muñoz's vocal adjustment isjust right for the young Orlando, her swagger exactly that of a teenager casting an eye to adulthood. She captures the growth of the character from his trembling nerves at meeting the Queen - quaking subtly upon his knees, offering her a bowl of rose water to cleanse her fingers - through his cavalier dalliances and emergence into adulthood; all the while we are watching the progress of a young man. Nor is Orlando's change an unconscious one: she handles the inevitable confusion as he adapts and learns how to be a woman with believable and entertaining skill. When Orlando is served in a lawsuit over his/her gender, the single cocked eyebrow says it all.
Costumier Michael Robinson speeds the story's passage by weaving costume into set and narrative: having escaped near death at the hands of gypsies, Orlando's ocean voyage back to England is told comically and cleverly by the overlay of a sky-blue satin drape covering the skirt of Orlando's newly acquired feminine wardrobe. We feel the tossing of the ship as puffs of air and teetering platform billow the blue drape, while O'Brien's subtle lighting effects bring us passage from day into night, storm into calm. Robinson goes a step further a few scenes later by cloaking Orlando in 3 centuries of fashion to be divested against a 45 second narrative: Muñoz is peeled skillfully from one shoulder to hip, climbs out of the tonnage of 18th century court attire to reveal a slender-silhouette Victorian afternoon tea-gown complete with chapeau & parasol, followed by the airy lightness of an early 20th century garden dress wherein Orlando doffs the hat and appended coif, fluffs her hair with her fingers and voilà! The release of her burdens is complete.
The entire supporting cast is played deftly and often hilariously by the Chorus trio of Nick Moore, Stephen Rosenberger and Mark Shum. The three interweave comic relief while fostering the story's underlying theme of "gender fluidity".
As Shum plays Queen Elizabeth to satiric heights, we are subliminally reminded of the young woman thrust into a man's ultimate job and station, often rumored to be secretly a man as she grew in power and strength to raise a destitute land to world power, nonetheless delighted and charmed in her elder and less feminine years by the then innocent boy Orlando.
Rosenberger's more direct portrayal of Archduchess Harriet, revealed later to be Archduke Harry, underscores the dual nature within us all: Archduke Harry sees feminine Orlando after her return to England from the East and punctuates his confession of abject love for her by divesting himself of an Archduchess' weighty garments to reveal a handsome, masculine cut of a man, still desperately mad for Orlando and delighted she is now a woman. Both characters are the evolution of the theme, the aging woman having all but lost her femininity, the Archduchess who is really the Archduke but in disguise for any chance to seduce a male Orlando - and are played to dualistic perfection.
The subtlety of Nick Moore's portrayals, however, should not be missed: from the imposing stiffness of the Russian ambassador who glowers silently over Sasha's toying with Orlando only to remind her with a stern gaze of her duty, to the quirky ship captain, resisting the need to keep his place while irresistibly drawn and offering all manner of service to Lady Orlando, to the captivating love of Shelmerdine who shatters Orlando's pretense with a single look - she had to achieve womanhood to learn the difference between Sasha's lust and the joyous knowing of Schelmerdine's love - Moore emerges as the hidden gem.
Stage West's Regional Première of Orlando is a must-see. An inescapable part of the Stage West experience is, of course, dining before the show in its sister enterprise, the Old Vic Café and Gallery. The Café is run by area culinary professionals with a passion for fun, elegance and creativity. Enjoy eclectic menu offerings and a well-stocked bar surrounded by works of North Central Texas artists, all available for purchase. Fruit & cheese plate and Copper Creek Salad highly recommended. And don't forget to pre-order dessert for intermission!
Allied Theatre Group
821-823 West Vickery Blvd, Fort Worth Texas 76104
Box Office 817-784-9378
Runs through Sunday May 4th.
Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday 3:00 pm
Tickets are $28.00 -$32.00
For information and to purchase tickets online go to http://www.stagewest.org/ or call the box office, 817-784-9378.