Orlando chronicles the titular character's life and romantic relationships. It begins with him as a young man, naively proud and and establishing early on his aspirations to be a poet. He first endeavors to write about an oak tree, only to realize this a harder task than expected. Throughout his life, he entangles himself with various people. Within his first 30 years of age, he finds himself the boyish interest of an aging queen, the passionate and yearning lover a Russian princess, and the horrified object of affection of a "hee-haw"ing archduchess. After suddenly waking up as a woman, he repeats the same process for the rest of his life -- centuries, he discovers, as he's been fated to do. She must again deal with the archduchess, who was actually a man dressing as a woman in his pursuit of the male Orlando. Later on, she finds herself quickly enchanted by the sea captain she eventually marries.
Throughout his/her life, Orlando switches between each centuries' gender norms. At first, he displays the witty, open forwardness and playboy attitude that comes with being a man. After his transformation, she realizes women are expected to be emotional beneath composed, coquettish mysteriousness. Having lived so long and established so many different selves, Orlando finds herself overwhelmed and at a crossroads: "Who am I?" she asks amidst the hustle and bustle of the 20th century. Imagined visitations from some of her past loves helps her define her identity and finally complete the literary piece inspired by the oak tree she saw as a teenage boy ages ago.
Out of context, Orlando's various romances may sound like a soap opera. However, they're not squalid accounts of affairs. Rather, they're landmark moments in his/her life that emphasize that gender is more fluid than its societal constraints and that a person's sense of self isn't defined solely by any one experience or existence.
The play penned by Sarah Ruhl adapts famed author Virginia Woolf's novel of the same name. The program notes Jobsite provided with their playbills and posted to its website mention that Ruhl incorporated lines from the novel into her play. Even though I have yet to read Woolf's text, I could tell Ruhl's adaptation was paying loving homage through its narrative quality. Had the play relied only on traditional production values (acting, costume, design) to build story context, the nod to Woolf's work wouldn't be present. While one might argue the cast's narration was a crutch to move the story along, in my opinion it added to its charming self-awareness of being theater based on a novel.
In a way, Jobsite appointing an all-female cast was appropriate, considering, for better or worse, society's preference towards women with stereotypically male personality traits. But beyond that, the actresses transitioned easily between being gender neutral storytellers recounting Orlando's tale and their respective characters of a specific sex. Their transition across the fourth wall was so brilliantly performed that they didn't seem aware they were breaking that wall at all. Narrating the story was as much a part of being in character as playing Orlando, Princess Sasha, or Shelmerdine themselves as they flitted in and out of scene to recite their lines, change in and out of costume, or adjust the stage according to each scene's location. Despite having to take on these dual roles in a play already full of plot and context, the cast's performances never felt flat. Jonelle Meyer's oafish guffawing and brazen flirtation as the Archduchess convinced me plenty why Katrina Stevenson's Orlando would flee to Constantinople to escape her sights. Stevenson's own rendition of Orlando's gender fluid identity was so well-executed that even when she was outwardly portraying a prim and proper 18th century woman, I could believe she smirked and puffed her chest in arrogance as her character's original male self.
The cast's involved interaction with the set itself likely attributed to the high energy of the production. Opening a trap door hidden in the raised platform turned it into the Queen and Orlando's bedchambers or Shelmerdine and Orlando's private quarters. With a screen stretched across the lampposts flanking either side, the same platform showcased through light and shadow silhouette Orlando's life-changing transformation. Probably my favorite use of stage space and props was a white runner pulled from beneath the platform steps across the floor, a scene made all the more enchanting when Stevenson and Ami Sallee (Sasha) glided in place atop it to simulate skating across the water on their way to London.
Even the beautifully simplistic costumes held their own importance. More than just completing each character's physical appearance and establishing time and place, the outfits' uniformly white design allowed the actresses to flow in and out of the narrative and their characters without obstructing either one.
Jobsite's production of Orlando explored the concept of self-identity through -- or in spite of -- gender roles with smart, efficient design motifs and a lively cast that effortlessly crossed the line between being storytellers and characters. Whether or not attendees are familiar with Woolf's original novel, they're sure to find something that resonates with them and beyond the ages Orlando has to live.