The Court Theatre’s “Orlando” Explores Gender, Sex and History

Two North Shore natives have collaborated once again to bring innovative and captivating theater to Chicago in the Court Theatre’s production of “Orlando.”

Director Jessica Thebus instills playfulness and poignancy in Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando,” which explores what it means to be a man and a woman through sex and history.

“Orlando” is the tale of a young man (Amy J. Carle) who falls asleep one night and wakes up a woman. As a woman, Orlando lives for hundreds of years, observing the societal constraints women face, including the pressure to marry,  which he does in the early 20th century.

But even as Orlando marries, he still longs for his first love, Sasha (the entertaining Erica Elam).

Regardless of gender, the heart wants what it desires, an autobiographical notion since Woolf was married to a man and had an affair with Vita Sackville-West, the author’s inspiration for “Orlando.”

Four men round out the play’s ensemble cast, expertly led by Carle. Dressed in unisex corset and tights, they narrate the play with energy and take on both male and female roles effortlessly. Standout portrayals include Lawrence Grimm’s Queen Elizabeth I and Thomas J. Cox’s hilarious, cross-dressing duchess.

It is a treat to experience this production in such as intimate space as the Court Theatre. Collete Pollard’s simple yet effective set design and Linda Roethke’s costumes, which were displayed on mannequins behind the set’s see-through curtains, complement this play’s exposing nature perfectly.

Thebus, an Evanston native, and Ruhl, a Wilmette native, first met as middle-schoolers at the Piven Theatre Workshop and previously collaborated on “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” at Steppenwolf and “The Clean House” at the Goodman Theatre.

After “Orlando,” Chicago theatergoers will surely look forward to their next collaboration: “Stage Kiss” at the Goodman this spring.

“Orlando” runs at the Court Theatre through April 10. For tickets, contact 773-753-4472 or visit