Comedy “Orlando” challenges students’ thoughts on gender

This fall, Pacific University’s drama department will be producing “Orlando,” originally adapted from Virginia Woolf’s novel by Sarah Ruhl. The production will hold showings at the Tom Miles Theater, Oct. 17 to 19 at 7:30 p.m., and Oct. 20 at 2 p.m., with free admission for all Pacific students.

The show, directed by Matt Zrebski, centers on protagonist Orlando, a youth whose story revolves around love, shifting genders and defying labels — with the twist of spanning over 300 years. Actor Dawson Oliver, who plays the Arch Duke / Duchess describes the process in bringing the play to life as equal parts exciting and challenging. 

“It’s one of those plays where there’s a lot of complicated movement and blocking involved as well as dialog,” Oliver said. “But, everyone has been very enthusiastic about trying it all out and getting through it. Most of the actors are theater majors or minors, so it has been interesting to compare such a challenging play to our past productions.” 

Oliver noted that time isn’t relevant in the production. Though the play takes course over hundreds of years, the main character only ages to 36. 

“There’s this ageless character trying to figure out what the world is like for them over 400 years while encountering many different characters and relationships,” Oliver said.

Not only is the show timeless — literally — but there’s a vast amount of depth to the plot. 

“You could do this show as a completely silly comedy or as a serious think-piece drama,” explains Oliver. “It’s interesting to approach this one because it has that extra layer beneath the comedy in it where there’s this serious layer of questioning of what gender means and how it’s been expressed over the last several hundred years.”

Besides getting people to laugh, as Pacific has chosen to perform the show as more of a comedy, Oliver explains he still wants viewers to genuinely take the show in. 

“I want to get the audience thinking about what gender means,” he said. “After all, this play is quite literally about someone trying to understand why gender matters in the first place.” 


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