Orange at Mixed Blood Theatre

Lipica Shah, Annelyse Ahmad and Owais Ahmed in Orange. Photo by Rich Ryan.

Lipica Shah, Annelyse Ahmad and Owais Ahmed in Orange. Photo by Rich Ryan.

In Aditi Brennan Kapil‘s Orange (Mixed Blood, through Dec 4) Leela (the wonderful Annelyse Ahmad) is having an “adventure.” Her well-meaning albeit scattered and goofily irresponsible cousin (played by the even wonderfuller Lipica Shah) has taken her off into the electric L.A. night where she has a series of magical encounters: the sweet-but-nasty art expert, the legless homeless man (Owais Ahmed), the beach partyers (Ahmad and Ahmed). L’s plaintive, “I can’t be alone,” becomes, at the end, a triumphant, “I can be alone.” Between these two lies Kapil’s unusual and emminently seeworthy play.

Leela is, as the Mixed Blood PR material states, “a young woman on the autism spectrum.” Ahmad plays this beautifully, delivering a flat, focused, concentrated and affectless performance. Her Leela is seeing the world for the first time – in the moment, an aspect of Leela that Ahmad captures perfectly. And convincingly. If you go (and you should) note the way Ahmad grips her purse straps. These small details add up to marvelousness. Shah and Ahmed play their characters with wild, all-over-the-stage energy but Ahmad underplays everything, with a steely taking-it-all-in gaze. It’s lovely (and the actors have received, one is sure, a great deal of deft help from crackerjack director Jack Reuler).

At one point, I scribbled a criticism: “I wish Leela displayed more vocal variety.” But I now realize that in this, as in so many things, I am wrong. One wants Leela to become an “actor” (as opposed to “acted upon”) but at the same time you want her to be believably autistic. It’s a fine line, and Kapil threads the needle brilliantly.

As good as Ahmad is, it’s not even my fave performance in Orange. That “honor” (if you wanna call it that) goes to the beauteous Lipica Shah, who effectively energizes every scene. It’s hard to choose, but I think I liked her denizen of the all-night grocery the best. Owais Ahmed is as good – his legless street dude is a hoot and then some. Ahmed and Shah keep Orange moving.

And move Orange does. It’s a breathless tour de force.

Set designer Joseph Stanley gives us a series of interlocking platforms. This keeps the action up high, and gives the characters size and presence. The design makes Orange a larger-than life experience.

A perfect play Orange is not: lots of petty pumped up energy, lots of repetitive material, lots of hurts-your ears shouting. But L.A., especially L.A. at night, is underexplored dramatic territory, imo, and Orange has the potential to become a permanent part of the canon.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. His The Sisters Eight will be presented at First Stage Milwaukee. His screenplays, A Slaying Song Tonight and The Deflowering Of Father Trimleigh are under option. Please visit his informational website.


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