.Orlan-doh! Virginia Woolf Gets Theatrical

Gender fluidity flows like the Russian River after a torrential rain in the Santa Rosa Junior College Theatre Arts Department production of Orlando. Laura Downing-Lee directs the Sarah Ruhl-penned adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel. The show runs in the Frank Chong Studio Theatre in the Burbank Auditorium on the SRJC Santa Rosa campus through Sunday, March 10.

Orlando (Lizzy Bies) is a 16-year-old wanna-be poet whose “shapely legs” catch the eye of Queen Elizabeth I (Jean-Colin Cameron). He’s made a page in the queen’s court and becomes quite the companion to the queen. But, boys being boys, Orlando’s eyes wander. He spots a beautiful Russian girl ice skating and soon becomes infatuated with her. Sasha (Millie Dotta) and Orlando run off together.

But not for long. Sasha betrays Orlando, and after an unwelcome pursuit by a randy Archduchess (Jimmy Toro Ruano), he escapes to Constantinople. After sowing some more wild oats, Orlando falls into a deep, days-long sleep. When he awakens, he is quite surprised to discover that he has become a woman.

And so they shall live as such for the next couple of hundred years, as Orlando searches for their true self and personal fulfillment, regardless of gender constructs.

The audience would do best to throw away their own biases and expectations when it comes to gender roles, as Orlando is the kind of show where anyone can play anything. Theater has long been a place where gender-bending is commonplace, but Orlando revels in it, and gloriously so.

Bies meets the challenge of playing a character of both genders and delivers a committed performance, never more so than when dealing with a significant costume malfunction. Ruano also does double duty as the Archduchess and Archduke, with very amusing results that brought to mind the work of Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. Cameron’s alternately haughty and giddy queen manages not to be overshadowed by their regal couture.

The sheer, draping scenic design by Nathaniel Gillespie and lighting design by Chris Cota brought good technical support to the overall sense of fluidness. Costume coordinator Colleen Scott Trivett had her hands full dressing the cast in a couple of centuries’ worth of costumes.

Beyond the gender issues, Ruhl’s use in Orlando of a mix of third-person narration and dialogue can also be challenging for an audience. But stick with it, as your ear will adjust.

Maybe your thoughts about gender will adjust, too.

‘Orlando’ runs Weds–Sun through March 10 in the Santa Rosa Junior College Burbank Auditorium Frank Chong Studio Theatre, 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. Weds–Sat, 7:30pm; Sat & Sun, 2pm. $15–$25. 707.527.4307. theatrearts.santarosa.edu.


  1. “Are we so made that we must accept death in small increments or we cannot go on with the buisness of living?” This is one of my favorite lines.

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