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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Classic Stage Company


  Francesca Faridany Tom Nelis/ Ph: Joan Marcus

With Sarah Ruhl, you always have to brace yourself for a heaping dose of whimsy. In Orlando, an early-career exercise (commissioned by Chicago’s Piven Theatre in 2003), Ruhl meets her match – and seeming dramaturgical soul mate – in Virginia Woolf.
The 1928 novel – dedicated to Woolf’s aristocratic bisexual muse Vita Sackville-West – is nothing if not fanciful. It features a gender-switching hero/heroine – here played by the ambi-attractive and highly skilled Francesca Faridany – whose lifespan lasts centuries.
“He” starts out a dreamy 16-year-old boy with well-turned calves – a feature that attracts the patronage and lust of an aged Queen Elizabeth (David Greenspan, up to his old tics) – and emerges in the 1920s a 36-year-old woman still yearning to write poetry but struggling against the restrictions placed on her sex.
In truth, the first act is a great deal more engaging, especially Orlando’s amour fou for a Russian princess, Sasha (lovely Annika Boras), whom he encounters skating on the frozen-over Thames. (The elegant, androgynous tsarist costume designed by Anita Yavich enhances Sasha’s considerable appeal, as does the convincing glide choreographed by Annie-B Parson.)
This story of young love betrayed (he prepares for elopement, she for escape) far outshines the trials of act two, when Orlando – unveiled, literally, as Lady Orlando after a deep sleep in Constantinople – fends off a hyper-boring suitor, an inane Romanian archduke (Greenspan again), in favor of a dashing seaman (Tom Nelis) whose courtship moves, straight from the pages of a romance novel, are more to her liking. Also, in copacetic Jungian fashion, they’re drawn by each other’s anima and animus.
Where Woolf is prolix, Ruhl is economical, choosing only the most vivid, peculiar imagery to highlight in her fast-moving, story-theatre-style script. Under Rebecca Taichman’s deft direction, this Orlando is not the profound, in-depth experience Woolf admirers might crave, but it tickles and delights, and Faridany’s star turn alone makes it a must-see.


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