Writer and solo performer Kate Robards may have felt like a fish out of water during her stay in China, but she can boast two homes. One is the small town of Orange, Texas, where she was raised. The other is the stage.
With fetching charm, abundant humor and a gift for self-reflection, Robards’ Mandarin Orange weaves a story of her small town roots and big world adventures.
Blessed with beauty and brains, Robards is also a damned good actress and writer. She has created a fitting showcase for her abundant talents, under the sharp direction of Jill Vice. The show was further developed with Dael Orlandersmith, an Obie-winner and Pulitzer Prize nominee, and comedian Lauren Weedman, an experienced solo performer and author. The results are heart-warming, personal and very funny.
Growing up in Orange, described as “more Cajun than cowboy,” Robards knew everyone, and learned to follow her colorful mother’s three essential rules. “Go to church on Sunday, help your friends and neighbors when they need it and shop local,” offers mom, as portrayed by Robards. Orange, resting along the banks of the Sabine River, is known for tree-lined streets that form a comforting canopy throughout the community.
When her DC-based boyfriend gets a job offer that takes him to Shanghai, China, Robards accompanies him. Arriving in the world’s fastest growing city, the wide-eyed expatriate exclaims, “It’s so big, like the future!” Her initial excitement gets doused by the true nature of the Chinese megalopolis: overcrowded, dirty, and lonely. Skyping her busy mom back home isn’t much help so she joins a group of other ex-pat spouses, the Shanghai Dolls, who get together to feel more connected.
Kate’s frustration with being thousands of miles from home becomes compounded when she takes boyfriend Josh’s advice and begins to work in his office. Instead of being hired for her skills or education, her Chinese boss, the uptight director of an ad agency, signs Robards on for different reasons. “You happy office housewife. You look pretty. Others in the office will hate you.”
by Kate Robards
at Caos on F
923 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
Mandarin Orange is not only masterfully performed, but written with a skillful blend of humor and vulnerability. Kate shares the long illness and death of her father back in Orange and the time she entered a quiet chapel at her hometown church to pray for her ailing dad. While in Shanghai, office-mate Luna tells Robards about the Chinese practice of filial piety, revering parents and elders. Robards realizes how little she has faced her feelings of her father’s death. A journey to a mountain peak takes her to a Buddhist temple where she is able to speak to God again – “through another provider” – and work through her feelings honestly and openly.
After Josh and Kate leave Shanghai, the couple returns to Orange, Texas. Finding fewer trees, thanks to recent floods and hurricanes, Robards realizes even her hometown has changed. “You can’t fight change,” says Kate’s mother. The traveler and actress also realizes even if the town has lost trees to extreme weather and the ravages of time, she always has her memories of her bittersweet upbringing in the bayou town. “My roots will always be in Orange.” And her roots have extended 7,600 miles away from Texas to bustling Shanghai.
I can see this show being developed into a full length play or even an independent film. I predict success in any arena, as long as Kate Robards keeps using her acting and writing talents.