ORLANDO, Piven Theatre Workshop. Any cast would have to work overtime to compensate for a set as ugly as the one Jack Magaw has inflicted on this production. On sickly orange latticework at the rear of the stage he's flung a hideous assortment of cheap costume pieces; it looks like the bargain bin at Village Discount exploded and got stuck. Director Joyce Piven's cast work hard indeed, but in all the wrong ways. Rather than elucidating the finer points of Virginia Woolf's complex, cerebral novel Orlando--the title character begins life as a Renaissance man and ends up a 36-year-old woman four centuries later--they opt for a broad, gimmicky physical style, transforming themselves into trees, animals, ships, and assorted crowds at the drop of a hat, and always in the most obvious and perfunctory of ways. This self-indulgent folderol obliterates most of Woolf's sophisticated tale, leaving the cast to shriek out bits of decontextualized narration with the crazed enthusiasm of flight attendants on speed.
Thankfully Piven scales back the nonsense in the second act, making room for Justine Scarpa's powerful performance as the female Orlando. With her stone face masking a plaintive desperation, Scarpa finds a greater psychological depth in the character than Woolf herself did. That she can craft such a striking performance in the context of this messy production is testament to the scope of her talent. --Justin Hayford