Considered by her contemporaries a playwright “second only to Shakespeare,” Joanna Baillie was one of the most critically acclaimed writers of the Romantic Era. The Plays on the Passions, first published in 1798, stands as her undeniable magnum opus: a multivolume series of tragedies and comedies exploring the overruling passions of the mind. Orra: A Tragedy in Five Acts, which comes from that series’ third volume, is Joanna Baillie’s haunting meditation on fear and madness. It is gothic melodrama par excellence. Set in fourteenth century Switzerland, Baillie’s play skillfully intertwines psychological horror with early feminist thought. Orra, in love with Theobald, is exiled to a haunted castle in the Black Forest after rejecting a marriage proposal from her ward’s son. She is further threatened by the nefarious machinations of Rudigere, a pathologically jealous knight whose desire for Orra verges on obsession. Then there’s the castle itself, a dark and gothic abode that soon brings Orra to the brink of abject terror. Will Orra survive her expulsion into the Black Forest—or will she descend further and further into madness?
I play Alice.