F&M Production of 'Orlando' Explores Struggles, Triumphs of Love

By Bonnie Bosso and Meg Honinberg '13

  • Students perform in an early rehearsal of "Orlando," a play-length adaptation of Virginia Woolf's acclaimed novel "Orlando: A Biography." From left, Alan Wu '16, Sam Kauffman '15, Hannah Mead '14, Nicholas Gallo '13, Elaine Ye Feng '16, Hayley Marshall '15, Raechel Richardson '15. (Photo by Adrienne Miranda '14)

Imagine falling asleep as an English nobleman and waking up as a duchess. Imagine flirting with an elderly Queen Elizabeth I and moving through centuries as if they were days. This is the journey of the protagonist in Sarah Ruhl's play-length adaptation of Virginia Woolf's acclaimed novel "Orlando: A Biography."

A fantastical parody of a biography, "Orlando" was inspired by the 20th-century British writer's love for the aristocrat Vita Sackville-West, said Elena R. "Ellie" Heyman, a visiting assistant professor of theatre who is directing a production at Franklin & Marshall College April 4-7. Some, including Sackville-West's son, have called Woolf's play "the longest love letter in the English language."

"'Orlando' is a story about an unquenchable search for love, knowledge, expression and identity, and an illusive need to conquer something," Heyman said. "This adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel will speak with immediacy to students because they, much like Orlando, are in a time of profound transformation and actualization in their lives. Yet it will also speak to general audiences because it asks us to reflect upon the choices we've made in our lives up to this point."

The play, which will be performed by an all-student cast, begins with English nobleman Orlando in the woods and soon moves to the court of Queen Elizabeth I, the frozen Thames River, Constantinople, the mountains of Turkey, and back to England -- all over the course of four centuries. The play is filled with budding and fading romances, and reflects the perks and drawbacks of each, Heyman said. An interactive set serves as a platform for energetic stunts, including flips.  

Ruhl, the playwright, visited F&M in February as the 2013 Lapine Family Distinguished Dramatist, meeting with the student cast and giving a talk on "Essays I Won’t Write." Ruhl has won a MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as a "genius grant," and she is considered to be one of America's most important mid-career dramatists. Among her works are "In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play)," a Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony Award nominee for Best New Play in 2010, and "The Clean House," a Pulitzer Prize finalist and winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 2004.

Sponsored by F&M's Department of Theatre, Dance & Film, performances of "Orlando" are slated for 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, April 4-6, with a matinee show at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 7, in the Schnader Theater of the Roschel Performing Arts Center.

Tickets are $10 for the general public, $7.50 for F&M staff and faculty, and $5 for students. To purchase tickets, visit the Roschel Box Office between noon and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, order online or call 717-358-7193.

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