Leela is a seventeen-year-old South Asian girl from Calcutta. She looks out on the world with a thoughtful mien and speaks in an assured forthright tone. She knows a lot of things. She knows that the black box that records the last few minutes of an airplane’s descent to disaster is really orange. She likes to draw simple pictures. She is flying into the John Wayne Airport with her mother to attend the wedding of a cousin and also to rejoin her father who has been living and working in Orange County for a while. She is intelligent and has a charming simplicity. And she must not be left alone. Orange by Aditi Brennan Kapil, now in its West Coast premiere at South Coast Rep, is an absorbing play about Leela (the utterly charming Pia Shah) and the people she meets and the adventures she has on one day and one night in Orange County.
The fine protean actors Anjali Bhimani and Karthik Srinivasan create all the other characters. Ms. Bhimani is mature and reserved as Leela’s mother, stoic in the face of her responsibility to her daughter and questing to reconnect with her husband. She is giddy and impulsive as Leela’s cousin Priti, who is a year older than Leela. As Leela’s father, Mr. Srinivasan is constricted and unnerved by the sudden appearance of his wife and daughter, who come to the wedding uninvited. He scores as Gar, a feckless recent high school graduate, with a long-standing thing for Priti. Along the way, they play five other characters. The three teenagers steal away from the wedding and go on an adventure in deepest darkest Orange County.
Orange is a faded through line of the play, significant as a fruit, a color and a place. The playwright is wry about the county, lamenting the loss of orchards, ironic that oranges are imported from Florida, and pokes some fun at John Wayne Airport. Orange County has taken some lumps before, fair or not. Other places, New Jersey, say, or Silicon Valley, or Bakersfield, for example, also get lampooned, perhaps unfairly. Orange is not about Orange County, Much like Romeo and Juliet is not about Italy.
Leela is on a real adventure, with danger, uncertainty, risk, loss, and discovery. There is abundant humor in Orange. There are good people and bad people, which is a new experience for the sheltered girl. She learns that, “The Gods are humans. The demons too.”
Jessica Kubzansky directs this fine production. Michael Raiford’s elegant, minimalist scenic design has a false proscenium and flying flats that look to be made of sheets of paper, upon which animated projections by Mike Tutaj are displayed. Simple benches glide on and off. Lighting by Jaymi Lee Smith transparently directs attention and enhances mood. Denitsa Bitznakova’s costumes define character, whether elegant or grungy or simple. The sound design by John Nobori is superb.
Orange runs through March 26 on the Julianne Argyros Stage at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.