An Indian teen somewhere on the autism spectrum spends one adventurous night discovering The OC with her Americanized cousin and her cousin’s skater-dude boyfriend in South Coast Repertory’s West Coast Premiere of Aditi Brennan Kapil’s Orange, not only a delightful cross-cultural comedic treat but a particularly apt choice for Orange County’s premier regional theater.

We first meet seventeen-year-old Leela (Pia Shah) aboard a jumbo jet propelling her and her mother (Anjali Bhimani playing “All The Women”) from Calcutta to John Wayne International and an OC-residing relative’s wedding, their arrival coming as a not-so-pleasant surprise to Leela’s Dad (Karthik Srinivasan as “All The Men”) who’d rather the wedding guests not have to deal with his strange bird of a daughter.

Leela’s tendency to fixate on details (the airplane flight recorder being orange not black, her cousin’s wedding not being a real adventure because “an adventure is when you go exploring,” etc.) cue us in to her autism, that and her mother’s warning that because Leela doesn’t always “recognize bad people,” she must “concentrate and keep out of trouble.”

Trouble, by the way, is precisely what Leela’s Americanized cousin Priti has in mind on this, her last night in Orange County before heading off to college, her final chance to accomplish all the things she and her waitlisted boyfriend Gar put on their must-do list back when they were twelve, among them visits to Tustin’s blimp hangars, Orange’s Schaffer Park, and a moonlight beach off PCH.

Along the way, Leela draws notebook sketches of the world as she sees it—a curved-edged rectangle for an airplane window, a circle for an orange, a blank page for a cloud, the latter eliciting the ire of a nine-year-old girl who insists that “you can’t draw nothing and say it’s something.” (Leela can.)

Also popping up during our wide-eyed heroine’s Orange County escapades is a dreadlocked homeless Old Dude who fills Leela in on OC lore along with a couple of beach partiers who add a bit of danger to the equation, all of the above making for more than enough late-night adventure for a girl as sheltered as Leela.

Kapil’s play fascinates on many levels, from its insight into what it means to be “on the spectrum” to its juxtaposition of native and US-born South Asians to the OC specificity of its more-or-less universal coming-of-age tale. (Local audiences will relish references to SoCal’s early-morning marine layer, to the Disneyland fireworks that light up the Anaheim-adjacent skies, and to local hot spots like Orange Bible Church, Orange You Glad Café, and Orange Glaze Nails.)

Director Jessica Kubzansky directs with accustomed visual flair, eliciting sensational performances from all concerned.

Shah’s wondrous and wonderful Leela anchors the production with a never less than believable blend of naiveté and obstinacy and awe at every new sight and sound, all seen through the eyes of someone who views the world around her very differently from you and I.

Bhimani and Srinivasan dazzle in multiple roles each, transitioning from spot-on Indian-accented old-school grownups to all-American cool-and-cocky teens, with special snaps to the former’s know-it-all tween Girl and the latter’s Rastafarian Old Dude, the duo aided immensely by Denitsa Blizankova’s character-defining costumes.

Michael B. Raiford’s chameleonlike set features ingeniously designed screens made up of overlapping notebook pages upon which Mike Tutaj’s projections of Lyuben Dimitrov’s illustrations give us glimpses of the world according to Leela. Jaymi Lee Smith’s vivid lighting and John Nobori’s edgy sound design add to the production’s dramatic impact.

Kimberly Colburn is dramaturg. Tory Davidson is assistant director.  Natalie Figaredo is production assistant.  Kathryn Davies is stage manager. Joshua Marchesi is production manager. Casting is by Joanne DeNaut, CSA.

It’s hard to imagine a more eclectic season than SCR’s Winter 2017, from Jen Silverman’s Midwest-situated odd-couple comedy The Roommate to Lookingglass Theatre Company’s epic staging of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick to the Southern California delights of Orange.

Audiences who join Leela on her Adventures In Orange County are in for an 85-minute night to remember.

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South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
March 14, 2017
Photos: Debora Robinson/SCR


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