(Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR)
Written by Alina Mae Wilson
There is not a single person on earth who has never felt loneliness. Most people, I am fairly certain, have had a desire to go off and do something wild, wonderful, exciting, or to simply put it –have an adventure. If either of my assertions are wrong, you are welcome to correct me (since I am not you, I will have to take your word for it.) Still I rather think I am right. It is part of humanity’s history and condition to desire companionship and excitement in some form or another. Aditi Brennan Kapil’s Orange over at the South Coast Repertory is one of the finest depictions of these desires in the modern day. Set right here in Orange County, Orange is exciting, funny, and compassionate in all the right ways. It’s also complex enough to keep you alert and ready for more the entire time.
Indian teenager Leela (Pia Shah) has just arrived in Orange County for a relative’s wedding, and she is ready and waiting for adventure. Leela appears to be on the autism spectrum (or have some other sort of unspecified social disorder), and, despite her father’s wishes for her to “be discreet,” she accepts her cousin’s invitation to go exploring Orange County for the excitement she has waited for since her arrival. During Leela’s adventure she explores a foreign country, forges new friendships, and ultimately pushes herself to new heights.
While there are a few set pieces put to good use (a bench here, a billboard there), the real fun with the set comes from Leela’s sketches, which appear as backdrops onstage. Sitting and picking out locations from her artwork allows us to feel a little playful. While they aren’t constantly shoehorning in references to famous O.C. locations (thank GOD because that would have been annoying), the drawings give the play a distinctly Orange County-ish feel. We always remember our location without being browbeaten about it.
The acting in Orange is beyond great; it is superb. There are three actors on the stage, and every one of them vividly and coherently brings their characters to life. All of the women in Leela’s story are played by Anjali Bhimani, and all the men are played by Karthik Srinivasan. Pia Shah plays Leela pensively, with some of her thoughts and feelings hidden beneath a calm and expressionless face, which leaves us to wonder what might be occurring beneath –such as when Leela’s cousin carelessly describes Leela’s familial struggles. Other times she is abrupt, forthright, and considerably confused. Everything about Leela’s social struggles and difficulty in deciding on her next steps is treated with dignity and respect. Sometimes Leela’s mistakes are comical, but Leela herself is not comical. Leela is serious, considerate, and braver than what some might have expected. She is thrown into alarming situations, and although she does not always have the appropriate response, she always seems to have the right one, doing what is morally (if not socially) correct. As for all of the other characters in the story, Bhimani and Srinivasan have ample opportunities to showcase their talents, and boy do they take advantage of that fact. Every entrance and exit for these two is as effortless as if there really are multiple people running around backstage. Adorned with only a few costumes to sell their identities, both actors sell each and every character they portray, and they sell them hard. Every moment is considered valuable, and the actors treat every character with deliberation and respect.
The actual plot of Orange is interesting because seeing things the way Leela sees them allows us to understand how foreign everything must feel to her. We understand the adventure Leela is having, but as outsiders to her mind we also understand the situations that perplex her. What makes some misunderstandings charming or funny makes other misunderstandings frightening and dangerous. One thing is certain though –this ninety minute play does not leave any time for boredom or wishing for intermission (which is fortunate since there isn’t one).
This is the story of a young woman who goes out and finds not the adventure she expected but the adventure she needed. It depicts a type bravery that is not often seen in the cinema. It’s a great way to spend an hour and a half, and I cannot recommend Orange enough.
March 5-26, 2017
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Side Note: Some sexual references and adult language.