Wellesley Summer Theatre Company Takes a Modern Approach to a Woolf Classic

January 15, 2015
Wellesley Summer Theatre Company cast of Woolf's Orlando

Virgina Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography was ahead of its time when it was published in 1928. The semi-autobiographical story follows the story of its protagonist over 300 years—although Orlando ages to only 36—both before and after the time that he falls asleep as a man and awakes as a woman. The change in gender forces Orlando to examine his idea of identity and to explore her redefinition of it.  While issues of gender may be topical, the examination of “self” and the influence of love, gender and relationships in personal development are classic themes.

Woolf’s novel is in expert hands with Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony Award nominee Sarah Ruhl in the playwright’s stage adaptation, Woolf’s Orlando. Ruhl remains true to Woolf’s work and voice with what The Village Voice defines as “a story-theater style that preserves the writer's playful cadences and much of her wit.” New York Theatre Wire references Woolf’s Orlando as a reason why Ruhl is a playwright not to be missed.

Nor to be missed is Wellesley’s interpretation of Ruhl’s script at the direction of Department of Theatre Studies Chair Nora Hussey. The show was a Boston Globe “5 Things To Do” pick during its opening week, and was the subject of a recent arts feature in the Metrowest Daily News.

In the Metrowest story, Hussey expresses her appreciation of how Woolf was able to reflect the intricacies of different kinds of relationships, and notes that there is a “freshness and a vivacity” to Ruhl’s script of Woolf’s story. Hussey elected to work with the themes of gender identity and transformation by casting only six actors to portray the play’s 18 characters. With the exception of Catherine Leclair, who portrays Orlando, each actor assumes a variety of characters of different genders.

In addition to Leclair*, the cast includes New York and Boston-area professionals John Davin,* Woody Gaul,* and John Kinsherf,* as well as Wellesley College student Elisabeth Yancey ’16 and Wellesley alumna Vicky George ’05. [*Actors Equity Association] The design team includes David Towlun on set and lights, Emily Woods Hogue providing costumes, and George Cooke on sound.

This comedic story of time-travel and identity will run through February 2, with 7:00 pm shows on Thursdays, Friday, and Saturdays and 2:00 pm shows on Saturdays and Sundays, with a special performance at 7:00 pm on February 2. Tickets are $20 general admission and $10 for students and seniors. Reservations are required: 781.283.2000 or tickets@wellesleysummertheater.com.