01 Jul Orlando
by Sarah Ruhl.
August 16 through September 15, 2013.
(Preview on August 15th).
Directed by Domenique Lozano.
Based on the Virginia Woolf novel, Orlando by Sarah Ruhl tells the story of a young nobleman who is drawn into a love affair with Queen Elizabeth I. For a time, life at court is interesting enough, but Orlando yearns for something more. As he strives to make his way as a poet and lover, his travels keep him at the heart of a dazzling tale where gender and gender preferences shift regularly, usually with hilarious results.
The New York Theatre Wire says, Orlando is a “subtle and satiric commentary on the status of men and women”. His swashbuckling journey to define himself (herself…?) is sure to entertain and enlighten.
American playwright Sarah Ruhl, born in Illinois in 1974, is considered one of the foremost playwrights of the American stage. She has already won the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship and the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award. She began playwriting after studying with famed playwright Paula Vogel at Brown University where she got her M.F.A. in 2001. Sarah’s first play, The Dog Play, was written for one of Vogel’s classes. Ruhl uses her love of poetry and witty word play to infuse her work with vibrant emotionality.
Ruhl burst onto the theater scene in 2004 with The Clean House which won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and went on to be a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005. She is perhaps best known for her play Eurydice also written in 2004 and after a very successful run at Berkeley Rep was produced off-Broadway at New York’s Second Stage Theatre in June 2007. Both these plays deal with characters grappling with finding the joy of living in spite of the death surrounding them.
2004 continued to be a busy year for Ms. Ruhl. She completed her Passion Play cycle after Washington’s Arena Stage commissioned a third act and produced it in 2005. She had begun the cycle when she was 21 while studying with Vogel at Brown. Passion Play went on to make its New York City premiere in the Spring of 2010 in a production by the Epic Theatre Ensemble at the Irondale Center in Brooklyn. With a time traveling theme like Orlando, also first produced in 2004, each part of the trilogy depicts the staging of a passion play during a different historical period: Elizabethan England, Nazi Germany, and the United States during the Vietnam War era.
More recently, Ruhl’s In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) premiered at Berkeley Rep in February of 2009 and opened on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre the following November marking Ruhl’s official Broadway debut. This play explores the history of the vibrator which was developed for use as a treatment for women diagnosed with hysteria. In the Next Room was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play.
In just under a decade, Sarah Ruhl has become one of America’s most sought after playwrights. Her engaging plays continue to be produced on Broadway, at top U.S. regional theaters, and having been translated into a dozen languages, around the globe.
Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on January 25, 1882 in London. She was the third of four children joining four additional children from her parents’ blended family. It was for the most part, a happy existence. So much so that London and/or her family’s summer home in Cornwall would later provide the principal settings of most of her novels.
Virginia had total access to her father’s extensive library and pursued her goal of being a writer from an early age. Her formal education was sketchy at best as she never went to school. However, her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was an eminent editor, critic, and biographer, and his connections meant that Virginia was raised in an environment filled with the influences of Victorian literary society. Her older brothers went to Cambridge making friends with a number of writers and other intellectuals which eventually became known as the Bloomsbury Group. One such writer was Leonard Woolf whom Virginia married in 1912 as both pursued careers in writing and journalism.
The only hindrance to her pursuit was that Virginia periodically suffered from mental breakdowns which continued throughout her life. The first major breakdown was at the death of her mother, then a second when her father died, and again after her marriage, delaying the publication of her first novel The Voyage Out. After one episode of depression in 1917, the Woolfs bought a small hand printing-press to provide therapy and to provide a hobby for Virginia as she recovered. This eventually developed into a business, Hograth Press, which published most of Virginia’s subsequent work beginning with her collection of experimental stories Monday or Tuesday.
A burst of creativity in 1925 saw the publication of Mrs. Dalloway, followed by To the Lighthouse in 1927, and The Waves in 1931. These three novels are generally considered to be her major works as a modernist writer. Following her involvement with the aristocratic novelist and poet Vita Sackville-West, Woolf wrote Orlando (1928), inspired by Vita’s life and ancestors in Kent. Orlando is considered important for its stylistic and literary influence as well as being one of the most famous works by a woman author that directly addresses the subject of gender. It is often considered the longest and most charming love letter in literature. Virginia Woolf is also known for A Room of One’s Own (1929) which she wrote following two lectures she gave to the women’s colleges at Cambridge in 1928 discussing women’s writing and its social and economical influences.
After completing her final novel Between the Acts (1941), Woolf fell into yet another depression provoked perhaps by the destruction of her London home during the Blitz of World War II. Her condition worsened during the spring of 1941 until, unable to work, she famously filled her overcoat pockets with stones and walked into the river near her home and drowned.