Notes on Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black, and acting

Sometimes the very beginning of a thing is a choice bit, which works best when it’s fresh and unfamiliar. Imagine reading, without having heard it first, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” or “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” Try to conceive of being in the audience when Beethoven’s four-note opening to his Fifth Symphony first dot-dashed through the air. Recall, if you’re one for whom it’s possible, seeing the opening sequence of Touch of Evil without knowing what was in store.

The opening of the first episode of Orphan Black, a Canadian-produced TV series that premiered in March 2013, is that kind of thing. Though it doesn’t work on the same level as those examples, it’s a pretty great little grabber. And the show that it introduces has achieved a degree of fame, for reasons that are hinted at in the pilot episode’s first few minutes.

If you have an interest in the art and craft of acting but aren’t acquainted with the show, I suggest you watch the opening (so it’s not spoiled for you) and then read “The Many Faces of Tatiana Maslany,” a interview by Lily Loofbourow with Orphan Black’s lead actress, which appears in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. For my money, Loofbourow is a bit too agog over Maslany’s basic abilities, though this is common in pop-culture discussion of acting; somehow we all know enough about writing to assess the three-act structure of a film yet persist in seeing actors as wizards. A potentially funny moment arises late in the Times interview, when Loofbourow writes, “Despite Maslany’s reluctance, I managed to steer our conversation back to her magical quick-change act. I still wanted to know how she does it.” Maslany knows better than to tamper with the spell, but I couldn’t help wishing she had replied by asking the writer how she writes. Nonetheless, Loufbourow does a fine job of teasing out Orphan Black’s feminist critiques.

Incidentally, Maslany was originally scheduled to appear onstage in New York in an upcoming production at Second Stage Theatre of a new Neil LaBute play, called The Way We Get By. A scheduling conflict necessitated her withdrawal; the role will now be played by Amanda Seyfried, with the man’s role still taken by Thomas Sadoski.

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3 thoughts on “Notes on Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black, and acting

  1. One might say that this review embodies just what it describes: a great opening. Wish there had been more of what followed, but accept that you did not want to play the spoiler. Would be interested to see the show; have heard something about it. A pleasure as always to read your fine prose, JEB.

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