BWW Reviews: WSC Avant Bard's Exquisite ORLANDO at Arlington's Theatre on the Run

It is a rare thing to discover an actor perfectly suited to a role; even more wonderful when you get to watch this performance up close, in a space as intimate as Arlington's Theatre on the Run--and it certainly helps if the material is classic to begin with, adapted for the stage by one of America's most creative, resourceful playwrights. When the lights come up on WSC-Avant Bard's new production of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, we are treated to Sara Barker in the title role; her 'boyish' charm fills the space and carries you through the evening, and Orlando's many changes, almost effortlessly.

The pleasures of WSC Avant-Bard's Orlando are many, beginning with Virginia Woolf's brilliant novel; one of literature's most enduring labors of love, it was dedicated to Vita Sackville-West. This stage version also gives us a glimpse of Sarah Ruhl early in her career, tackling Orlando at a time when she was too young to be intimidated by this iconic feminist work. Ruhl and Woolf, it turns out, are a perfect pair because they both share a finely-tuned sense of irony on issues of gender and sex. Ruhl's comic sensibility is a huge asset here as well, because it frees actors who might otherwise be burdened by Sally Potter's 1992 film, starring Tilda Swinton. I only mention the film because this production is energetic, funny and sexy enough to make you forget the movie altogether, and that is no small praise.

Orlando, for the uninitiated, is Woolf's contemplation of the many phases of a woman's life, a woman (much like herself) whose intelligence and orientation lead her to reject the role society has established for her. The clever literary conceit is that the ages of a woman can be read as the passing of so many centuries, with our hero/heroine beginning as a boy in Elizabethan England, transforming into a girl and ending as a middle-aged woman. Barker perfectly evokes Shakespeare's girl-boy heroine in the first act, as "he" becomes the Virgin Queen's favorite and has "his" first taste of the ecstasy of love. Mario Baldessari's turn as Her Royal Highness is delightful, and Amanda Forstrom is pitch-perfect as Sasha, Orlando's first love. As the tomboy gives way to the young woman of Act 2-a transformation staged far more artfully than in the film-Barker brings down the house with her panicked realization that she suddenly must play the role of compliant female companion, the awkwardness of the debutante doubled by the fact that she has just become a women before our eyes.

Director Amber Jackson has created a free-wheeling atmosphere for the ages of Orlando, in which anything and everything is possible. With Barker as the anchor, Jackson has let loose the incredible improvisational talents of her three-member Chorus. Andrew Ferlo, Jay Hardee and Mario Baldessari create and even embody a dizzying variety of places, people and contraptions down through the centuries-including the automobile you see in the photo here. Their comic timing and kinetic energy drive the action and complement Barker's work perfectly.

The production team here has done a remarkable job as well; as a habitué of Theatre on the Run, this is the most effective use of the space I have ever seen, with Steven Royal's misty set filling the space and creating natural opportunities for interaction between the cast and the audience. Joseph R. Walls makes full use of the space's lighting grid (in the process giving the crew and cast a run for their money) and Debra Kim Sivigny has collected an amazing array of period-specific costumes, which allow us to follow the many eras and parts of the world with ease. Last but not least Veronica J. Lancaster does a good job setting the mood with her many discreet soundscapes.

Seen in photo from L to R: Jay Hardee, Sara Barker, Mario Baldessari (foreground/hood ornament) and Andrew Ferlo. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Orlando runs February 21-March 23 at Theatre on the Run, 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, Arlington, Virginia. Tickets are available by calling 703-418-4808 or by visiting

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From This Author Andrew White

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