Review: Orlando at Casa Esperanza

Elements Theatre Collective Popped Up on Thursday, July 17

While Santa Barbara can boast plenty of first-class stages — the Garvin, the New Vic, the Granada, and the Lobero, to name a few — this performance by that vagabond troop known as Elements Theatre Collective vividly reminded me how little by way of brick and mortar is needed to invoke theatrical magic. Where is the play? Anywhere skillful storytelling occurs and willing imaginations are open. As with previous productions, Elements strives to make theater accessible to everyone by playing Orlando free of charge in a host of spaces from yoga studios to a coffee house, a mortuary, and a church. This performance at Casa Esperanza drew an eager audience that included homeless people who rarely attend Santa Barbara theater, and the evening was sheer fun.

Tess Plant-Thomas plays the title role with a genuinely touching combination of thoughtfulness and innocence. Virginia Woolf’s comic fantasy (adapted by Sarah Ruhl) follows the ageless Orlando from the Elizabethan court to the 20th century as he witnesses material progress and cultural development as well as a magical gender change. The core issues are deep — the mystery of identity and the illusion of time — but the wit and farce are absolutely captivating. A flexible supporting cast gives strong, even performances that require intricate choral narration, clever costume effects, and delightful comic characterizations that include Rob Grayson’s Queen Elizabeth and Stephanie Farnum’s Archduchess/Archduke Harry. Morgan Altenhoff’s Princess Sasha is so convincing that I thought for certain the actress was Russian. Finally, Erika Leachman provides vibrant support, including the role of Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, Esquire.

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