March 10, 2011 – April 10, 2011
adapted by Sarah Ruhl
directed by Jessica Thebus
Sarah Ruhl, one of American theater’s most exciting young playwrights, adapts Virginia Woolf’s gender-bending novel about sex, love, and history. Often called the longest love letter in literary history, Woolf’s Orlando tells the story of an English nobleman, Orlando, who lives for hundreds of years before falling asleep and waking up as a woman. Directed by longtime Ruhl collaborator Jessica Thebus (The Clean House at Goodman Theatre, Dead Man’s Cell Phone at Steppenwolf), Orlando demonstrates Court Theatre’s ongoing commitment to contemporary translations and adaptations of classic works.
Orlando is an adaptation of Viriginia Woolf’s semi-biographical novel of the same name, about a young man of Elizabethan nobility whose wanderings through a long series of twisting romantic affairs take the most dramatic twist of all—Orlando goes to sleep and wakes up one week later as a woman. In her new body Orlando sets to the task of adapting to the strict gender roles of English society. But complicating Orlando’s new life is one fantastical problem: Orlando is destined to live for hundreds of years. Orlando is adapted by nationally-renowned playwright Sarah Ruhl, who brings her signature poetry and whimsy to Woolf’s classic novel.
“The age was Elizabethan,” the chorus tells us, and “everything was different.” In fact, everything was violent, so violent that, well, “Violence was all.” Orlando, a young boy—so we’re told, on a note of conspiracy—drifts in the distanced ranks of Elizabethan nobility and the tumultuous feelings of blossoming youth. He is troubled ruminations of death, and soon enough, confused love affairs. Queen Elizabeth falls in love with him, but soon he involves himself with other women, though always without satisfaction. When an ice age descends on common England and things seem their worst, suddenly Orlando meets Sasha, an androgynous Russian princess.The scandal of the court, Orlando and Sasha skate away over the frozen Thames, expressing their love in gibberish French and passionate tumbles. But even in love, Orlando cannot escape the dark self-doubting of his youth. A production of Othello ignites his foreboding, and he hastens Sasha to marry. At last the winter breaks, and waiting for Sasha in a flood-bearing rain, Orlando realizes she won’t show.
Spring ushers in a new series of romantic trysts, but Orlando remains hardened, unsatisfied, moving countercurrent to his world and his sexuality. Until at last, far away in Constantinople, he falls into a deep sleep and wakes up seven days later, now indisputably, a woman. With her sex changed, Orlando returns to England with new perspective, and new obligations. She must suffer the restraint demanded of an Elizabethan woman, particularly as she is courted by the Archduke of Romania.
Time begins to shift unnaturally; the sounds of bells and clocks signal that the scenes no longer shift with the seasons, but the centuries. In “the spirit of the age,” Orlando suddenly yearns for marriage. She envies every wedding ring she sees, every couple she passes. Now, in the nineteenth century, she discovers a suitable match, Marmaduke, a woman with the exterior of a man. They marry, and happily so, but the ever changing Orlando continues to move through time. It’s the twentieth century and Marmaduke has long since passed. The modern world confuses everything. Orlando can no longer discern the nature of her true self. She takes to writing and tries to find what may or may not really be, “the present moment.”