Saturday, November 9, 2013

Orange Is the New Black Is the New One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

by Drew Martin
I just finished binge-watching the Netflix series Orange is the New Black with my wife. It took an episode for me to get into but then I was hooked. The writing/directing is very good, and there is a medley of performances; some very good, others are simply caricatures. And then there are caricatures that really open up into something unexpected, such as the consistent love-to-hate performance of Pablo Schreiber as "Pornstache," and especially the amazing performance of Uzo Aduba as "Crazy Eyes," which sometimes reads as a cartoon character but can then jump into the depth of Shakespeare.

Orange Is the New Black is derived from Piper Kerman's memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, and while it references many things, including the 1978 documentary Scared Straight, it culturally overrides
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 1962 classic novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Shukov) because the time and place of a soviet gulag is no longer relevant to a post-cold-war American audience. While the politics of the Russian tale are causal, they are conditional in American terms. 

Orange Is the New Black collides stories at the penitentiary crossroads of race, faith, and sexuality. One of my favorite performances is by Laverne Cox, a transgender woman who plays the character of Sophia, the wise hairdresser of the prison. Kudos to Netflix, director Jenji Kohan, and the cast of Orange Is the New Black for pulling off an absorbing first season, and bucking the system for how a series like this is produced and watched.