Given the way the film "The Hours" has created renewed interest in Virginia Woolf, Sarah Ruhl's adaptation of "Orlando" at the Actors' Gang seems sagely timed. Happily, this West Coast premiere staging of Woolf's epic 1928 time-traveling gender-bender is excellent theater as well, scoring an elegant, seamless bull's-eye.
"Orlando" was inspired by Woolf's passion for Vita Sackville-West. Modeling her protagonist upon that aristocrat, Woolf spins a picaresque metaphysical yarn of biting wit and ageless pertinence.
It begins in Elizabethan England, where the androgynous hero (Polly Noonan) merits the favors of the virgin queen (Kate Walsh), on one condition: "Do not fade, do not wither, do not grow old."
So he doesn't, falling asleep one night to awaken centuries later, transformed into a woman. From there on out, you're on your own.
Director Joyce Piven expertly maintains Ruhl's restrained third-person narrative, which follows Woolf's trajectory more faithfully than did Sally Potter's 1993 film. Together with her sharp design team, Piven creates a kind of virtual Bloomsbury Group Theatre, as if seen through Peter Brook's daft viewfinder.
The youthful ensemble, aptly cast for quality, is selfless. If Noonan's vocal equipment is as slender as her person, she wields both to affecting effect. Walsh, a red-haired ringer for Catherine Deneuve, is equally vital, with their final reunion jerking unexpected tears.
Their colleagues include Nick Gillie, Nathan Kornelis, Melanie Lora, Corey Lovett, Alessandro Mastrobuono, Caleb Moody, Carmella Mulvihill, Nancy Stone, Yasuko Takahara and Lolly Ward. All are wonderfully invested, as is this memorable production.
Where: Actors' Gang Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood
When: Wednesdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Sign language interpreted March 14.
Ends: April 27
Contact: (323) 465-0566, Ext. 15
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes