Orlando Transcends Gender in Theatre Pro Rata’s Delightful Production

Photo by Alex Wohlhueter

Theatre Pro Rata’s Production of Orlando is an adaptation by Sarah Ruhl of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando: A Biography. It’s an irreverent play filled with humor in a production that blossoms with creative touches. The play touches on and comments on issues of gender equality and gender identity without ever being preachy. It’s entertainment above all, but it also achieves more. The character of Orlando is a positive representation of a transgender character. While not grounded in the reality that a transgender person deals with in terms of their transition, it is nevertheless a positive representation. Representation is an important thing in art. In terms of transgender representation it can be hard to find positive examples. For me, as the parent of a young trans man, it was nice to see a character who is essentially transgender but isn’t the victim in a crime show and for whom the focus isn’t on the problems and discrimination they are subjected to. The politics which are touched upon are more of gender than of transgender in nature. The transition in gender is dealt with in terms of the differences in rights and social customs of male vs. female, but the actual transition is accepted. That seems small, but for a transgender or gender fluid person, that being a non-issue, can be kind of a big deal and empowering.

Orlando is a young man who wishes to be a poet. He catches the eye of Queen Elizabeth who brings him to court and grants him an estate and title. We follow Orlando through various love affairs, one to a Russian princess is given more importance than the others. After that affair ends, he is pursued tirelessly by Archduchess, in order to avoid her overtures Orlando goes to Constantinople. In Constantinople one day he awakens to find he has transformed into a woman. He returns to England and continues his affairs but now as a woman, including a marriage to a sea captain named Marmaduke. Orlando’s life spans centuries from the time of Queen Elizabeth the first up into the 20th century.

Orlando is portrayed by Courtney Stirn, they handle the duel gender role with ease. It’s a tricky role as the entire play is almost told as a narration, with Stirn’s Orlando even referring to themself in the third person. At times there is straightforward interactions and dialogue between the characters, but there is always a sense that we are being told the story in the past tense as opposed to as it is happening. Stirn and indeed the entire cast move in and out of these stylized scenes effortlessly. It’s Stirn’s show all the way and they nail it, with all the right emphasis whether it be the humor in a scene or a moment of mystical revelation. The entire cast is just fantastic, there is a very unique tone to the piece and each of the cast members is on pitch. Standouts are the always impressive Nissa Nordland Morgan who plays, among other chorus roles, Queen Elizabeth. Nordland Morgan is a master of character work and she has multiple memorable turns here always finding a way to add some extra twinkle through her physicality. Michael Quadrozzi as Marmaduke gives a memorable performance as well as the male love of Orlando’s life. The courtship of Orlando and Marmaduke is a sweet moment that lets both Quadrozzi and Stirn play a few sweeter more grounded notes and they play off each other very well.

The show is directed by the Artistic Director of Theatre Pro Rata Carin Bratlie Wethern. She fills the production with nice little touches that capitalize on limitations that turn into creative flourishes. The miniature trees that cast members pass along to signify the characters in the foreground speeding along the frozen Thames river on skates. The Birds on strings used several times to great effect. She has her actors weaving in and out of narration and into scenes smoothly. The stepping from outside the narrative into the story could be difficult to follow but Braitlie Wethern’s direction keeps us, the audience, always in the loop. The scenic Design by MJ Leffler and the Lighting Design by Emmet Kowler, are simple but effective, with this type of narrative keeping the background simple, helps to focus the audience on what the performers are doing so they don’t get lost. I also find with more minimalist set design the audience has an easier time filling in the location with their own mind.

Orlando runs through March 27th at the Crane Theater in Northeast Minneapolis for more information and the purchase tickets go to https://www.theatreprorata.org/.

  • A special note Theatre Pro Rata always has a special donation box. In addition to ticket sales, donations greatly assist them to continue to develop and produce theatre work like Orlando. For this show the donations will be gathered throughout the whole run and money raised will be donated to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). I urge you to see the show and when you you do please donate generously to this important cause.

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