A modern exploration of classic Orlando

Photo Credit: Experience BrockU

Photo Credit: Experience BrockU

For their first Mainstage production of the 2019-2020 year, Brock University’s Department of Dramatic Arts (DART) has managed to revitalize a 1928 take on gender identity (as well as Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5”).

In any adaptation, Orlando is high-spirited and witty while still moving, bringing questions of gender and identity to the forefront. The tale follows a nobleman and wannabe poet named Orlando through a variety of affairs and adventures. Halfway through, Orlando falls asleep for a period of days following an evening of debauchery, only to wake up as a woman. Orlando accepts her newfound self and carries on, spending the latter half of the play discovering what it feels to be a woman after living what seemed to be (and probably was) hundreds of lifetimes as a man.

DART has brought Orlando to life as their fall Mainstage production. Orlando runs for six performances and it’s an event that cannot be missed.

Both on stage in Sarah Ruhl’s 1998 adaptation and in the pages of Virginia Woolf’s original novel, the story of Orlando is exuberant. Orlando is a trip through a lifetime — rather, a handful of lifetimes — lived by a time-travelling hero-turned-heroine. Originally published in 1928, Ruhl’s adaptation of the novel has ensured the tale of a genderfluid protagonist stays as fresh as it must have been upon its original release. The heart of Orlando is timeless as the story tackles topics society still grapples with: the pressure to perform gender, the fluidity of personal identity, the contrast between having patriarchal power and being crushed by the weight of it.

This version of Orlando even sees alterations to the source material’s poor treatment of race. The ensemble cast briefly agrees to abide by the exoticization of Constantinople (now Istanbul) as long as they can camp it up, complete with ridiculous, over-the-top accessories and a pop punk Aladdin cover. They’re quick to throw all of this aside with relief so the racialization of the scene can be deconstructed, a much-needed update to Orlando.

Clearly, under Dr. David Fancy’s direction, Orlando feels brand new all over again.

As is tradition, the ensemble cast is small and selected without a thought to the actors’ genders. Orlando allows opportunity for everyone within the cast to shine and each performer in DART’s take on Orlando seized this opportunity with ease. Every single performance is witty and razor sharp; there isn’t a moment that’s out of line.

Serious moments that come about as questions of identity are investigated are moving, clearly poured over with care and compassion. Lighter moments, like an unexpected dance break set to “Mambo No. 5”, were consistently met with perfect timing, setting the audience alight with laughter every time.

At the helm of this show is lead Paige Hunt-Harman, who glides through Orlando’s transformation effortlessly. Hunt-Harman is snappy and enthralling as Orlando, swaggering around the stage with excellence. Orlando is fully encapsulated by Hunt-Harman who exudes a natural charm in tandem with her acting prowess.

Each performer pulls their weight, but clear standouts include Nathan Rossi and Taj Crozier.

Rossi balances two opposing roles in one, the Archduchess who later reappears as the Archdude (definitely not a typo and exactly what you’re picturing), both built on his aptitude for physical comedy and ability to go beyond and rein it in depending on his character’s needs.

Crozier proved his stage presence in Brock Musical Theatre’s rendition of Heathers last year, but goes even bigger and better in Orlando as Queen Elizabeth. He’s comical yet captivating, hard to take your eyes off of as the show progresses.

Orlando is a lighthearted comedy. Orlando is also a poignant drama. It’s not one of these more than the other, yet there is no perfect balance either; Orlando is simply Orlando. It’s something that has to be experienced firsthand. The passion the cast and crew of DART’s take on it render their performance a must-watch.

Orlando runs again on Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. and 11:30 a.m. and Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at the Marilyn I. Walker Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at brocku.universitytickets.com.

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