If I were to list the entire cast of this visiting production, you’d have an instant idea of the magnitude of this exciting foreign venture, which came to New York after presentations in Italy, France, Holland, and Scotland. When longshoremen protested over its proposed production on the New York City docks, the show was produced inside a giant bubble built over Bryant Park, behind the Forty-Second Street Public Library. In Europe, it had been done in large “found” locales, such as churches, stock exchanges, and even Paris’s Les Halles.
The interior measured 200’ X 120’ with a 40’ overhead space. A cast of 40 played 82 roles during the hour-and-a-half extravaganza, in the course of which the audience was forced to stand and constantly be on the move as the action swirled around and about them in a dazzling display of theatricalist projections. There was a strong bolt of danger to the proceedings as prop metal horses mounted on wheels careened violently through the space, with spectators fleeing from their path to safety. Similar approaches began to invade productions, such as Andre Serban's Trojan Women at La Mama. To this day, shows like this continue to appear, in New York and elsewhere..
The production was based on Ariosto’s fantastical sixteenth-century epic poem, a major part of which is about the handsome paladin of France, Orlando (Massimo Foschil) during the siege of Paris by the Saracens. During the actio, he dreams of the plight of his vanished mistress, the beauteous but deceitful Angelica (Paola Tanziani), and sets off in search of her, encountering a myriad of strange and magical adventures, including madness.
The disunified, highly episodic story, in which numerous personages and creatures appear, was produced on a grand scale, described by John Lahr as “Epic, gigantic, operatic, outrageous—it is like walking into your most heroic dream, awake. . . . Platforms combine and divide as fluidly as rain drops. The choreography is as varied as it is elaborate and precise. . . . The spectacle has the protean quality of nightmare.” Many of the scenes occurred simultaneously throughout the bubble, with constantly shifting focus, and no one was sure of seeing what others were watching elsewhere in the space.
A great clamor made the language impossible to comprehend, even for those who knew Italian. “What counts,” said Harold Clurman, “is the movement, the color, the atmosphere.” “There are lordly warriors, distressed maidens, hippograffs, sprites, crazy friars—a mad panoply of medieval lore. The characters harangue, scream, orate, implore, duel, make love, rape, kill. . . . I set the occasion down as a signal achievement in the theatre of our day.”
When the New York Times reviewers, Mel Gussow and Clive Barnes, both expressed a lack of interest, a storm of protest erupted in letters to the paper. Barnes was impressed with only about 10 minutes of the show, but Gussow, whose negative remarks angered many readers, panned Orlando as confusing, overacted, and too obvious. “There is much beating of breasts, pulling of hair, . . . and screaming from one end of the arena to the other.” He concluded, “This is a public spectacle that makes a spectacle of itself.”
Orlando Furioso was awarded a Special Citation by the OBIE awards.