A Way without Words

Kimberly Colburn
 | Feb 24, 2017
Orange Logo
Newport Beach

​Newport Beach.

Blimp Hangar

​One of the blimp hangars in Tustin, at the former Marine Corps Air Station.

Orange Circle

​City of Orange Plaza Circle.

Leela’s head is in the clouds, her mother says. More often than not, Leela’s head is bent over her journal, constantly drawing a visual diary of her adventures. She’s a girl of few words.

Orange by Aditi Brennan Kapil opens as 17-year-old Leela and her mother are traveling from India to Orange County, California. Leela was born in California, but her mother took her back to India when Leela was only 5 and it’s now become a foreign place—even though it is where her father has been living. A relative in their large Indian family is getting married, and Leela’s mother has used attending the wedding as a pretense for confronting her husband, Leela’s distant father When Leela and her mother show up, it is an unexpected arrival and no one is prepared for them. The family scrambles and finds them a hotel room, booting out the youngest sibling of the wedding party.

Leela seems unconcerned by the events swirling around her. Her father remembers that, even when she was a small toddler, she was not like other children. She’s always been serious and not given to the giggles and flights of fancy of the other kids. The aunties could never make her laugh, but her parents had no other children and it took them quite a while to realize that she was different—that she’s not neurotypical.

Leela has been told her whole life, repeatedly, that she can’t be alone. That her judgement can’t be trusted and she doesn’t always recognize bad people. She’s homeschooled in India. She’s always done what she’s been told. But now she’s hungry for adventure. Her mother tells her that they aren’t here for that; her father tells her that children are best seen and not heard. Yet her cousin Priti makes her an offer too good to resist—a chance to break away from the strictures of the wedding celebration (and the old people) and go on a real adventure. Priti and the rest of the world don’t know quite what to make of Leela, but Leela finally has a chance to put herself to the test—can she be alone after all?

SCR commissioned Kapil as a part of its CrossRoads Initiative, a program funded by the Time Warner Foundation to bring playwrights into Orange County on immersive residencies as a means for inspiration. Never having been to Orange County before, ​Kapil's only experience of the area was based on television portrayals. During her four-day exploration in the summer of 2013, she was pleased to find many things that she wasn’t expecting, and many of the things she learned wound up directly in the play (including that there’s a thing called the “marine layer”). Much of ​Kapils’s time was spent simply driving around and soaking up the many infamous locations of the area, from the Plaza Circle in the City of Orange to the Tustin blimp hangars to driving along Pacific Coast Highway.

Leela’s Orange County adventure not only mirrors ​Kapil's residency, it is also a metaphor for the many adventures in development that this play has had. From its inception nearly four years ago until today, the play has had multiple readings, workshops and showings. It’s gone from three actors to five actors (as seen in SCR's Pacific Playwrights Festival reading in 2015) and back to three again, with any number of expansions and contractions along the way. However, the heart and soul of the play has never wavered, and it has always had a strong sense of humor and fun—the same spirit of adventure that informs the production.

The production is led by director Jessica Kubzansky, who has been with the project ever since ​Kapil turned in her first draft. Her design team includes Michael Raiford on sets, Jaymi Lee Smith on lights, Denitsa Bliznakova on costumes, John ​Nobori on sound, Mike Tutaj on projections, with illustrations by Lyuben Dimitrov.

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