Arts: Stage dreams

Amit Drori's adaption of Virginia Wolf's 'Orlando' blurs the borders between the real and the surreal.

orlando play 24.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
orlando play 24.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In 1928, Virginia Woolf published a novel about a 16th-century young man who lives for over 400 years, falling into a deep sleep in the 17th century and waking as a young woman, maturing at the beginning of the 20th century. Entitled Orlando: A Biography, parts of the book are considered thinly disguised interpretations of the life of Vita Sackville-West, one of Woolf's lovers, an effort to merge fiction and nonfiction. "It's a text that's unbelievable in the way it's still relevant to the feelings and experience of living today," reflects theater director Amit Drori, who adapted the novel into a play that has enjoyed almost 30 performances in Switzerland and France and will premiere next week in Jerusalem as part of the Israel Festival. The play is performed by a single actor, Sylwia Trzesniowska-Drori, who interacts with a variety of video projections and robotic mechanisms. It was designed by an Israeli team of theater artists headed by Drori and based at the Herzliya Theater Ensemble. The creation of the set and development of the technological system were done in collaboration with the Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne of Switzerland, where in 1993 Robert Wilson adapted the same novel with French actress Isabelle Huppert as Orlando. The rehearsals with the Israeli team were held first in Herzliya, until they joined the Swiss team in Lausanne to bring together the mechanical and theatrical elements. This collaboration, combining "the textual word with visual theater," embodies the kind of work that Drori says he is trying to do, including the breakout performance he directed for the Israel Festival in 2006, Terminal, a biography of physicist Stephen Hawking that played at The Lab. The 29-year-old Jerusalem-born stage director and set designer studied at the School for Visual Theater in Talpiot. He has worked professionally with the Train Theater and Khan Theater, and presented three plays at the Acre Festival, working with puppets and live actors, and directing plays for both children and adults. For Orlando, Drori has chosen to concentrate on various aspects of the text's double nature. He explains that there are two main characters. The first is Orlando, who transforms over time from a man into a woman but also transforms in many other ways, recreating his identity through each era. The second is the biographer, who is trying to create a portrait of Orlando and is in partial conflict with Orlando's diverse and constantly changing character. "We follow the story from these two perspectives," says Drori, "one rational, trying to capture the essence of the character, and the other a personal process that's much more complicated." Alongside the dramatic development of this internal conflict, Drori also had an external challenge to face: the creation of a machine that was not just smart but would also be sensitive enough to work with the actor. "It had to work in a very specific, gentle, precise, delicate way." The main object on stage is a cabinet of drawers that works partly like a clock. He and the Swiss team tried to get to the point where they could control the movement in terms of time so that the machine could act and react, almost dancing with the actor. "To make something move on stage is simple," says Drori. "But this has so many parameters - video, sound, acting, mechanism, lights - and they have to work together to create a coherent universe, like an orchestra." Drori also focused on the visual aspects that exist in the text. "It was surprising," he says, "that such a verbal artist as Woolf focused so much on the visual image - nature, architecture, color, light." According to him, Orlando is possessed by nature, so in the play he uses video projection to recreate landscapes from the story. "Some are real landscapes, but some are seen through an emotional filter," he says. "The border between the real and the surreal landscape is blurred." Drori says he wanted the play to be like a dream. "You almost can't follow when the stage transforms," he says. "It almost works on the subconscious. It invites the audience not just to watch the stage but to dream it." Orlando will be presented as part of the Israel Festival on June 9 at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Jerusalem Theater's Rebecca Crown Auditorium. For more information, visit