It usually surprises readers to learn that Orlando—whose sublime exploits as a gender-flipping, time-traveling hero/heroine that Virginia Woolf chronicled in the novel of the same name—actually existed. Her real name was Vita Sackville-West, an aristocratic poet and writer who was by far the more famous literary name at the time when the two first met in 1922.
Even if her lifespan was perhaps a little shorter than the half-millennium of Woolf's fantastic text, Orlando reveals only a part of Vita's profound, long-term impact on the Bloomsbury novelist. She pursued Woolf, sparking a passionate love affair and a deep friendship that lasted the rest of Woolf's life. Since both were world-class writers, the brilliance and candor of their wide-ranging correspondence, only recently published, explored all aspects of their shared and separate lives.
British actor Eileen Atkins memorably adapted Woolf's A Room of Her Own as a one-person show in the 1980s. In editing Woolf and Sackville-West's letters for Vita and Virginia, Atkins said she has tried to convey "a lifelong conversation over two hours." In this flagship production of the new theater company Going Through A Stage, Dorrie Casey plays Vita and Lenore Field portrays Virginia. Tom Marriott directs. Performances are Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m.; tickets are $10, or $8 for students, seniors and ArtsCenter members. —Byron Woods