Orlando, directed by Julia Schultz, is a springy, frothy concoction with a serious underlying message. The play grapples with gender identities and sexual fluidity, accompanied by Virginia Woolf’s flowery dialogue. This version nicely captures the core theme of the work, gliding by with earnestness and creative set choices. However, there are a few snags that hamper its quality.
Orlando follows its titular character as he progresses through the centuries, an immortal being for unexplained reasons. He begins life as an aimless boy in Elizabethan London, catching the eye of the amorous Queen. He falls in love with an alluring Russian named Sasha, who ultimately breaks his heart. Orlando travels to Constantinople, where he becomes a woman. Orlando wanders through the centuries as a female, adrift and confused. She eventually accepts the plurality of her identity, no longer restricted by gender norms.
This play is inherently abstract and vague, more interested in themes and visuals than plot. Schultz’s version does not shy away from this fact, embracing the fanciful and dream-like nature of the piece. The set is blatantly artificial, made up of three rectangular boxes and a white sheet backdrop. Pictures are scrawled on all sides of the boxes, representing different spaces. Actors turn them to transport the characters to new worlds. The set and costumes have a rough and cheap quality to them, consisting of cardboard and paper. One hat in particular has a clearly visible NSLC logo.
The play makes up for its hard edges through sheer creativity. The Queen character appears by piercing through the white sheet, adorned in a black crown, towering above the cast. As Orlando and Sasha skate on London’s rivers, the three boxes roll behind them, creating an illusion of movement. When Orlando is in an elevator, two boxes slam together in front of her, pulling apart when she reaches a different floor. These imaginative flourishes make for delicious eye candy.
The cast, while energetic, are slightly overshadowed by the set. Edie Reaney brings charming innocence and naivete to Orlando, and she is believable as a man and a woman. However, her performance often feels flat and repetitive, maintaining the same general tone throughout the play. Kya Mosey, Allie Graham, Ally Lord, Ben Dunsky, and John Sandham play a Greek chorus, narrating Orlando’s life. Mosey stands out in her scenes as the Queen, commanding the stage, and Dunsky brings heart to a character who falls in love with Orlando and shares her gender fluidity. Unfortunately, the chorus’ energy occasionally morphs into overacting and hammy facial expressions. Thalia Stefaniuk as Sasha, Orlando’s first and only love, is the standout of the show. She has real presence and delivers her lines with verve and sly wit. She has a small role, but breathes newfound energy into the play whenever she’s onstage.
Orlando is also hampered by its dialogue, which can be overwritten purple prose, particularly in the second act. Characters speak in wall-to-wall exposition, explaining all the motivations, emotions, and ideas in every scene. Most of this writing is colourful and amusing, but even the greatest prose can grow boring if there are no pauses.
This play’s greatest accomplishment is the delivery of its theme. Orlando addresses the fluidity of gender, noting the ridiculousness of binary sexuality. Schultz’s version brings this idea to the forefront, particularly in the scenes where Orlando tries to understand how to “act” like a woman. The cast, dressed in androgynous clothing, also amplifies this sentiment. Actors play different genders, often in the same scene, seamlessly switching back and forth without batting an eye. This fluidity in the cast strengthens the core message of the play. In the end, Orlando learns that they are many people all at once, just like the cast.
Orlando is a solid beginning to the second season. Its set is a true delight and its cast, while hitting a few false notes, bring enthusiasm to the material. Its theme is its strongest component, as it’s sure to have people talking long after the curtain call. It is a pleasant, if imperfect, theatre-going experience.