Sunday, March 2, 2008

"Orlando": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

The A.C.T. Master's Class's version of Virginia Woolf's 'Orlando,' playing at Zeum through March 15, is one of those stage rarities -- the play is good but the performance is even better. Not that 'Orlando' didn't bend a lot of heads when it first appeared in 1928, with its gender-crossing theme of a young duke making his observations of life, first as an Elizabethan man and then as a Victorian woman. But the way playwright Sarah Ruhl has modernized the show without getting too cute, combined with a strong cast who keeps our attention for each of the 90 minutes without an intermission, makes us put off the ultimate question until we're in the car driving home: is it weirder that Orlando was a man and also a woman, or that he/she managed to live close to 375 years and still look positively fetching?

That latter quandry is the fault of Caitlin Talbot, who is as beautiful in the 21st Century as she would have been in the 16th. It is a nuanced role -- Academy Award Winner Tilda Swinton played Orlando in the 1992 movie -- and Talbot pulls it off flawlessly. She's funny, too, as are the five supporting actors, four of whom are also the on-stage sound effects crew (the fifth is Tovah Suttle, who plays the Russian vamp Sasha, strutting back and forth in her white fur hat).

'Orlando,' in the wrong hands, could be teeth-grittingly campy. But not here. It makes you laugh and think, and in that order. Perfect.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards 'Orlando' one star for Caitlin Talbot's performance as a man and as a woman, and another half for sticking to her poetry until she can call the grass purple. The sound effects boys deserve half a star (we especially loved their skating sounds as Orlando and Sasha skated for miles on the frozen Thames), and director Ryan Rilette's perfect blend of Woolf's words and the young cast's energy gets another half. The last half is for Callie Floor's perfect period costumes -- love the coats. A BANGLE of praise must be given for the choice of Aerosmith's 'Dude Looks Like a Lady' -- she most certainly did.

ZEUM, Yerba Buena Gardens, Fourth and Howard Streets San Francisco
Through Mar 15, Thu-Sun plus one Wednesday (Mar 5)

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