Play Preview: Orlando

Eliza Going ’18
Social Media Manager

“Orlando”, a play directed by Mehr Kaur ’16 will show on Feb. 26 and 27 and March 3,4 and 5. It is based on the satirical biography by Virginia Woolf, tells the story of a 30-something duke who wakes up one morning as a duchess. She goes on to live for 300 years without showing signs of age. In her centuries-long quest to find her identity, she embodies stereotypes attached to “maleness” and “femaleness,” yet doesn’t care for them.

The original novel was written about Woolf’s partner, Vita Sackville-West. The novel’s narrator is a cunning, witty trickster “whose every word you want to believe.” This prevalence of humor and unreliability is also seen in the play.

Kaur specifically chose this play for Smith to explore the search for identity that “pervades the college experience in a way that makes us forget that we don’t only have to be one thing. Orlando learns that the one particular self he is looking for perhaps doesn’t exist.” She added, “I think Smith students will be able to relate to that.”

The original novel starts out during the reign of Elizabeth I, in the late 16th century. A young nobleman, Orlando is introduced as a page for the queen and falls in love with a young princess named Sasha. After Orlando finds out Sasha has been unfaithful, he suddenly departs to Russia and starts to write a poem entitled “The Oak Tree.” Meanwhile, potential suitor Archduchess Harriet harasses Orlando into fleeing the country. King Charles II appoints him as an ambassador to Constantinople, where he works and lives normally until he falls into a deep sleep following a night of riots. He wakes up after a few days as the same person but in a woman’s body.

The play’s vast time span requires devoted enthusiasm from a cast. This particular ensemble “keeps the play beating,” especially in the physical demands they put to work onstage in “the traveling circus world of Orlando.” But out of all the characters, Kaur describes “The Oak Tree” poem as the “tallest, flyest [of] them all,” and the only part of the play to travel through the centuries with Orlando herself.

In addition to the cast’s physical accomplishments, the audience will appreciate the carefully planned costumes that reflect both modern and period styles. Contemporary materials like leather and denim take on Elizabethan Age shapes like bustles and peplums. Theresa Miles ’18 worked as the costume designer with Kaur to create the costume collection.

The original novel is considered a feminist classic important in English literary history, women’s writing and gender and transgender studies. A play so closely based on this well-known influence will certainly bring to light ideas considered ahead of Woolf’s time, in a more contemporary setting.

“Orlando” has been adapted into a 1989 theatrical production, a 1992 English film adaptation and seen as a strong influence in contemporary graphic novels involving “ageless [characters] with varying sex and gender through the ages.”

Kaur is a theatre major with an emphasis in directing. Her adaptation “Kultar’s Mime” is presently touring across the United States, Canada, India, and the UK to theatres and festivals, as well as to Smith on March 28. Hillary Clinton’s 2014 Women in Public Service Institute presented Kaur’s recent projects, “Water by the Spoonful” and “Seven: A documentary play.”


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