26 Sep TheatreFirst presents Sarah Ruhl's 'Orlando' at Live Oak Theatre in Berkeley

For Examiner.com.
By Charles Kruger.

Director Domenique Lozano’s production of Sarah Ruhl‘s “Orlando” (adapted from the novel by Virginia Woolf) is full of all manner of delights, chief of which is Stephanie DeMott in the title role of the jaded young nobleman, lover of Queen Elizabeth, who wakes up one morning to find he has changed into a woman.

DeMott’s cross-gender creation of the young male Orlando is astonishingly convincing. I can imagine that an uninformed viewer might well believe he was watching a male actor. Which is not to say that DeMott butches it up; this Orlando is young and willowy, girlish on occasion with flashes of effeminacy, but convincingly male nonetheless.

DeMott is supported by a skilled comic ensemble who play gleefully across sexual boundaries and keep the audience laughing. Andrea Day as a needy Queen Elizabeth captures the right mix of humor and pathos. Michael Barr stands out as Orlando’s comic suitor who, like Orlando, appears to have a mysteriously changing gender.

Woolf’s complex novel is a much admired staple of women’s studies programs and has been analyzed by queer theorists, gender theorists, feminists, Marxists, indeed, all manner of literary critics and quacks. It is serious literature without a doubt. Ruhl’s adaptation is respectful of the original, following the story precisely, and making extensive use of Wolfe’s original language. Director Domenique Lozano has a firm handle on the complexities of the story and makes the piece work on many levels, but never at the expense of the comedy.

This production is rollicking good fun.

A lot of value is added by Callie Floor’s superb costumes and Devon Labelle’s properties.

Admirers of Woolf and Ruhl will be very happy with this production, as will anybody looking for a good time, lots of laughter, and something to think about.

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