Fast and outrageous — two good words to describe Unseam'd Shakespeare Co.'s production of Orlando. In this 2010 adaptation by Sarah Ruhl, Virginia Woolf's talky (and cheeky) 1928 novel Orlando: A Biography becomes a wild theatrical play of and on words, time, gender, sex, culture and more.
Everybody in the cast of this local-premiere production cross-dresses, chews the spare scenery, riffs on love and rips off laughs. Director Robert C.T. Steele makes few concessions to reality in this epic fantasy. Costumes barely suggest the period. Props are mostly imaginary. Footwear is mostly eschewed.
The unlikely tale begins with a nubile young lad, Orlando, lover of the aging Queen Elizabeth I. After her death, the attractive aristocrat embarks on a series of adventures — sexual, literary and otherwise. After a really rip-roaring party in Constantinople, he has a veeery long sleep and wakes up a woman, which Orlando remains until the 21st century. (Obviously Ruhl takes the story further than Woolf.) Orlando also remains a head-turning 30-something over the centuries. This is easier to accept than her complete lack of a means of support (she loses title to the family estate because women could not then own property), but let's not get picky.
At the center of this tight one-act, Amy Landis fulfills the demanding title role, shouldering the heaviest explanatory narration. Wafting about the edges, Lisa Ann Goldsmith combines coquettishness and machismo as the love of Orlando's life, first as a Russian princess and then as a ship's captain, with hardly an alteration of costume. Both are rather trumped by the multi-cast/cast-against-type chorus of three guys. Among the most notable roles are: Brett Sullivan Santry's turn as the rose-collared QEI; Jonathan Visser as an unlikely but lustful suitor who also switches genders for Orlando; and Unseam'd artistic associate Andy Kirtland as the title character in Othello, among others.
Unseam'd makes a virtue of its low budget, forgoing extensive stage trappings for stripped-down multimedia design by Nicholas Quinn and a superb ensemble filling the intimate space. Orlando does have real, serious things to say — but they don't get in the way of a fun evening.