The most unusual part of Orlesian theater, appropriately enough, revolves around our southern neighbor's love of masks. Every actor wears a mask, and every mask follows a hierarchy of shape and colors that indicates to the audience the character's importance. Half-face green masks indicate a leading male role, for example, while half-face purple masks are for primary female characters. Full white masks are reserved for roles of no clear gender, such as spirits, except for demons, whose masks must always be black and red. Further complicating matters for those new to Orlesian theater, an actor's race or sex has no bearing on the parts they can play.
If a director believes they can sell the part, men can play dowagers, women can play dukes, and even an elf can play a king. Once donned, the mask is understood to be absolutely them. None of the actors I spoke to could explain to me the history behind this tradition, but bristled when I suggested other nations find it strange. There is a strong bond of trust between Orlesian theater troupes and their viewers. Indeed, I have rarely attended such attentive audiences than in Val Royeaux. It is my guess that Orlesians, surrounded as they are by masks in their daily lives, both require and fully respect a place where the objects boldly display their wearers' intentions for a change.
An appendix at the back of this volume lists the appearance and meanings of Orlais' theatrical masks. These conventions are vital to understanding the history of its finest theater, a journey I hope you will find as rewarding as I have.
—From A Compendium of Orlesian Theater, Volume I: Introduction by Magister Pellinar
A tent. King Drakon turns his crown in his hands.
Enter his trusted cousin, Captain Ashan.
Captain Ashan: Hail, Your Majesty. The armies wait on you.
King Drakon: What of the enemy?
Captain Ashan: The blighted ones mass on the hill, in larger numbers than ever we've seen.
King Drakon: We are outmatched on the field.
Captain Ashan: Andraste armed us with faith.
King Drakon: Our allies are a week from Cumberland.
Captain Ashan: We are aided by the Maker's word.
King Drakon: I do not doubt.
Captain Ashan: Yet your brow is vexed.
Drakon throws down his crown.
King Drakon: Pride killed our Prophet. Her sacred words are all we've left! If victory spurns us, who will carry them forward? Who will bear the Chant of Light?
Captain Ashan: Cousin! The army waits!
King Drakon: Maker, for a soul fit to lead them!
—From The Sword of Drakon: an Examination of the Life and History of the Father of Orlais, by Marquise Freyette
It's little wonder King Drakon's life is one of the most popular tales in Orlais. After founding both Orlais and the Chantry, the charismatic young noble battled the Second Blight for the rest of his reign. Freyette's plays are notable for being the first to portray Orlais' founder as a man beset by doubts, as are we all, instead of an idealized cipher. A few grand clerics attempted to ban the play, saying it criticized the current state of the Chantry, but The Sword of Drakon proved too popular among the masses and the nobility and remains a staple of Orlesian theater to this day.
—From A Compendium of Orlesian Theater, Volume II: Classics of the Storm Age by Magister Pellinar
Countess Dionne: You mock me.
Duke Le Seuille: It's what I do best, I'm told.
Countess Dionne: He cannot be our child!
Duke Le Seuille: I have asked about the town. He wears my great-grandfather's scabbard. The one that went missing that night.
Countess Dionne: Impossible.
Duke Le Seuille: Then you have no objections to our visitor?
Countess Dionne: Who else have you informed of this?
A woman in a black and gold mask with crow feathers on the side enters from the servant's door. She bows. The countess pales and puts her face in her hands.
Countess Dionne: But if the man come to visit the castle is our son—
Duke Le Seuille: As you said, he cannot be. For both our sakes.
—From The Heir of Verchiel by Paul Legrand
Rife with betrayal, revenge, and a thundering climax, The Heir of Verchiel is performed each year in the city that gave it its name, a lavish production put on for the nobility who visit from nearby Halamshiral. The first performance of the play featured the noted actor Victor Boyet as the Duke Le Seuille. A city elf from Val Royeaux, Boyet took smaller roles for five years before convincing Legrand he was fit for the part. His first performance in the capital was so well received that when the cast came out to thunderous applause, the current emperor rose from his seat when Boyet took the stage.
Elves have done well in Orlais' theaters, much to the surprise of those outside the country, but actors' lives are hotbeds of scandal and intrigue that would make even the bards blush. It is unusual at first to see elves openly tolerated and sometimes even welcomed into their betters' circles, but Orlais treats its actors as a breed apart.
—From A Compendium of Orlesian Theater, Volume III: Tragedies in the Modern Style by Magister Pellinar
The Young Maiden: Come, my lord, let us dance!
The Mayor: No! No, I cannot.
The Young Maiden: Oh, I beseech thee, do not leave me without a dance!
The Mayor: I have imbibed too much!
The Young Maiden: Please, come dance! I must leave soon!
The Mayor: It's too much! I bet you leave me to my circumspection!
Laughing, the woman pulls the mayor up from his seat. A loud sound stops her.
The Young Maiden: Do I smell the cook's cabbage stew from noon?
The Mayor: It has rejoined us, alas, from a more southerly direction.
—From Wilkshire Downs by A. Pourri
This play enjoys enduring and, some might say, embarrassing popularity, never failing to draw a large crowd during a festival or market. The fictional Fereldan village of Wilkshire Downs is the setting for over three thousand lines of increasingly outrageous situations begun, worsened, or ended by flatulence.
I am told actors go on a special diet to convincingly play the roles. I've not the courage for details.
—From A Compendium of Orlesian Theater, Volume IV: Comedies and Operettas by Magister Pellinar
Callista paces on the battlement over the lake. The sky is dark. She holds a cup of poison. Camallia is there, face veiled.
Callista: The dawn is late.
Camallia: It will not come again.
Callista: It must hide 'neath the clouds.
Camallia: It will not come again.
Callista: The queen thinks you dead.
Camallia, her back to the audience, faces Callista, and removes her veil.
Callista moans in fear. She drops her cup.
—From The Setting of the Light by Lumiere Bartlet
These lines are from a play said to have been one of the strangest works of its time. Bartlet was a writer of small repute who died when a fire swept through his pauper's hovel. The Setting of the Light takes place in the mysterious city of Demhe, implied to be another world that somehow becomes our own moon. Accidents, madness, and suicide plagued the first production, and some historians claim that the play's conclusion was at once so hauntingly beautiful and shockingly vile it sparked the Great Riot of Val Royeaux in 4:52 Black.
The truth will forever be a mystery. Only fourteen pages of the play remain.
—From A Compendium of Orlesian Theater, Volume V: Lost or Fragmented Works by Magister Pellinar
Lady Cramoisi: The body is not yet cold. Someone in this mansion killed Lord Carcasse!
Blanche, the Chambermaid: Maker's mercy! There's a murderer among us?
Captain Dore: Andraste take it, the woman's right. How do we proceed?
Mother Emeraude: We must search for some hint as to how the foul deed was done.
Captain Dore: With gusto, if one goes by the amount of blood on the walls.
—From Death in the Mansion by Violette Armand
Incredibly, this enjoyable if somewhat predictable melodrama begat a storm of debate. At the end of the piece, the murderer of Lord Carcasse changes into a villain's mask before giving an elaborate confessional speech. At the time, masks in Orlesian theater were fixed to each role. Plays were written with the assumption that the masks gave audiences vital information a play's characters might not possess. Death in the Mansion ignored this implicit contract, shocking the audiences at the time.
Armand was nearly destroyed by the attacks on Death in the Mansion by both her theatergoers and Orlesian critics. Many accused her of an unforgivable violation of the spirit of the theater. A vogue for "False Face" stories caught on among the foremost writers of the time, however, and today Armand's techniques are seen as wholly unremarkable. It only goes to show how easily the alchemy of time shifts the outrageous into the everyday.
—From A Compendium of Orlesian Theater, Volume VI: The Plays of False Faces by Magister Pellinar