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A CurtainUp Review

By Laura Hitchcock

Joyce Piven's vibrant production of Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando demonstrates the affinity to books of theatre, the word art, as opposed to film, the picture art. Sally Potter's gorgeous 1992 movie Orlando starring Tilda Swinton was, in the nature of film, selective. This version adapted by Sarah Ruhl on commission from the Piven Theatre Workshop peoples the stage at all times with a cast in Victorian underwear who take different roles and are skillfully choreographed on a playful set of ladders and platforms, centered by a gilded swing.

Polly Noonan makes Orlando a cheeky, lecherous boy, brimming with curiosity "like a child in a toy cupboard" over the present moment which, at the top of Act I, is Elizabethan England where his trim legs make him the favorite of The Old Queen herself, Elizabeth I. Orlando's personal favorite is the exquisite Russian Princess Sasha, whom he meets ice-skating on the Thames that memorable winter when it froze. Sasha is unfaithful and Orlando seeks salvation and diversion gliding down the centuries, surrounded by a trio of adoring girls in England and a bevy of deliciously common seamen on a rough ocean trip to the Orient.

At the end of Act I Orlando lies on the stage beneath a cloak which, stripped off, reveals a nubile feminine back. It's no surprise that at the top of Act II Orlando emerges as a fresh charming Victorian maiden, initially delighted at how easy life is for a woman until she realizes what inhibitions lurk in the folds of those Victorian hoops. "I"f this is love, there is something ridiculous about it," she describes the advances of the Archduke or Duchess, whatever.

By the turn of the century, the Spirit of the Age manifests itself in a sensation of wires encompassing her body until they focus into a ring on the fourth finger of her left hand. Observing couples stuck together all around her, she realizes the Spirit demands she take a husband. She flees to the moors where she hurls herself on the heath declaiming that she will be Nature's Bride. Thundering out of the west on a great white horse (we know it's white, even though nobody says so) comes her Knight - Marmeduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, her true love in typical Victorian Gothic fashion.

The play ends in The Present Moment when Orlando, in a black pant suit and Fedora, finds consolation from the ghost of The Old Queen. Curious as ever, she asks the Queen about the next exploration, Death. "Death is all air," replies the Queen, leaving Orlando to seize The Present Moment.

The taste and vitality of this production honor Woolf as person and artist. Piven reinforces Woolf's search for narrative techniques that delve beneath and beyond character and plot. Although Orlando is written without a character arc, Noonan gives one, starting as an obnoxious boy, growing in delight to a 20th century woman who never stops questioning. The able supporting cast includes Kate Walsh as a glowing and majestic Elizabeth I, Nick Gillie as a fiery Othello and a raffish Sea Captain, Alessandro Mastrobuono as Marmaduke the Gothic hero par excellence, Yasuko Takahara as a sly coquettish Sasha, Nathan Kornelis as a thoughtful Shakespeare. Danila Korogodsky has designed a spare colorful athletic set. Ann Closs-Farley's playful costumes beautifully interpret the spirit of this age.

Playwright: Sarah Ruhl's adaption of Virginia Woolf's novel
Director: Joyce Piven
Cast: Polly Noonan (Orlando), Nick Gillie (Othello, Sea Captain), Nathan Kornelis (The Poet), Melanie Lora (Clorinda), Corey Lovett (Desdemona, Archduke/Duchess), Alessandro Mastrobuono (Marmaduke), Caleb Moody (Salesperson), Carmella Mulvihill (Euphrosyne, Dupper), Yasuko Takahara (Sasha), Kate Walsh (Elizabeth the Queen), Lolly Ward (Favilla, Grimsditch)
Set Design: Danila Korogodsky
Lighting Design: Adam Greene
Costume Design: Ann Closs-Farley
Sound Designer: David Robbins
Choreographer: Lindsley Allen
Running Time: Two hours with one fifteen-minute intermission
Running Dates: March 1-April 27, 2003
Where: The Actors' Gang, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, Ph: (323) 465-0566
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on March 9, 2003.
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