Imagine you are a teenage boy in the 16th century, you’re having the time of your life. You are a Duke, you are having many affairs, and you are partying with Queen Elizabeth I. You fall asleep one night and you’re awaken a week later to find that you are no longer a Duke, but a Dutchess.
This is the premise of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, which has been beautifully recreated for the Modern Theatre stage and is running this weekend. In an adaptation directed by A. Nora Long of the Lyric Stage Theatre Company, we follow Orlando (portrayed by Micaleen Rodgers) as he goes through the fantastical transformation from male to female, and how they discover their true identity, maturing in their new self. Orlando lives through multiple centuries meeting characters including Russian ice-skater and princess Sasha (Erica Wisor), the great Queen Elizabeth I (Kane Harper), the charming Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, Esquire (Rory Lambert-Wright), and many more. Every encounter and constant visits to an oak tree invokes new emotions in Orlando and begs to ask the titular character and the audience the question: “who then am I?”
The fifteen-person gender-bending cast is nothing short of enjoyable. Nearly every cast member played multiple different characters seamlessly. Quick costume changes and different accents abound, the cast was versatile and capable of many difficult tasks that actors usually face. Lots of physical activity was required for this production as well. Actors had to climb poles, lift each other, and even juggle. The show was a great way to showcase some of the many skills that often go unnoticed in the theatre department.
The costumes, hand-made by Suffolk senior Maxine Buretta, were stunning. Each time Orlando came onstage in a new costume from a new time period, it was as if we all were there with her. The authentic look and beauty of each costume was a delight to watch and it greatly complimented the show’s aesthetic.
Not only this, but the contrast between the period costumes and the innovative set was a visual treat that captivated the audience. It amazed me how easily it was to transport the audience from setting to setting with simple lighting designs on a white stage. The crew made the experience much more immersive by projecting the shapes of windows, ships, and cobblestone paths onto the walls and floors.
Director A. Nora Long spoke very highly of the cast and crew, commending them for helping to “author” the piece and make it their own beautiful interpretation. “I used to work for Suffolk in the theatre department,” says Long, “and it’s been really wonderful to come back and I’ve enjoyed working with the students…It’s remarkable to see how everyone has grown and deepened their connections to the text.”
Long also believes the show is particularly appropriate as gender identity is still a conversation that is being debated in the modern world, and even includes a present-day twist near the play’s end. This is one of the many attributes that make Orlando a play that is not to be missed. It takes a piece of classic literature and brings it to life, featuring a stellar cast, tons of visual appeal, and a powerful, thought-provoking message that resonates with the audience long after the cast takes their bows.
Orlando runs at the Modern Theatre at 8:00pm from April 6-8, and at 3:00pm from April 8-9. Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 for students and the Suffolk community. Tickets are available online at www.suffolk.edu/ModernTheatre.