JB and I went to see Orlando: A Biography, Virginia Woolf‘s novel adapted by Sarah Ruhl, performed at Court Theater. This layered work, chronological from Elizabethan times to present day, is overlaid with a dreamy narrative and gender bending/ changing sex roles (Orlando after a 6 day sleep transforms from a young man to a woman). Over this 400 year journey, he and then she wants to be a writer. The passage of time is marked more by clothes and environment because Orlando doesn’t age much at all. S/he has many relationships and works at understanding what love and self are. In fact, clothes seem to be the only distinguishing characteristic between the genders as well, the play essentially exploring whether there really is any difference between the sexes. When Orlando transforms into a woman, s/he does not react with much surprise or shock. Orlando takes it all in stride, perhaps because she feels the same on the inside as when she was a man—only the outside has changed. The story is quite provocative especially as it was written in 1928.
This play is in part a barely disguised love letter to Vita Sackville-West who was Woolf’s lover at the time this play was written. This production is staged with a chorus of four male actors who play men and women’s roles in support of Orlando’s journey through time and toward discovering self. This fanciful romp exploring gender difference and sexual identity, imagination and truth makes for compelling and campy theater.
The actors talk about their roles: