I recently finished season 2 of the ubiquitous Netflix original dramady Orange Is The New Black (based on the prison memoir by Piper Kerman) so skillfully brought to life by producer/writer and director (she created Weeds too) Jenji Kohan. Kohan is extraordinary at fleshing out characters out of caricatures and though OITNB has what a short sighted person might see as stereotypes, her vision carves out a keen insight into making you feel these are people you might know.
With characters this good, casting was essential in making the transition from the page to screen. In what has got to be pinnacle roles for any women actors (I prefer not to use the feminine pronoun) the cream of the crop was chosen to portray this astonishing array of humans that are the inmates of the fictional Litchfield Federal Prison for Women. One can not say enough about this strong ensemble who are all Emmy worthy for their performances.
For the uninitiated, here is a break down of the cast and characters from OITNB, a show worth signing up for Netflix.
Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman: is the good suburban girl gone bad who has landed in Litchfield for smuggling drugs for her "lesbian experiment" Alex Vause. She is the character based on the book's author and we see through her eyes as she gets hardened by the realities of incarceration while embracing her relationship with Alex and breaking up with her male fiance. A friend recently posted she looks like the love child of Katy Perry and Jared Leto.
Laura Prepon as Alex Vause: is the actor from That 70's Show that plays the love interest of Piper. Prepon's deadpan coolness mixed with undeniable sexuality (and she single handedly popularized a trademark eyeglass frame) made her a cast favorite in season one. You believe these women are in love. Interesting to note that Prepon was initially going for the role of Piper.
Kate Mulgrew as Galina "Red" Reznikov: she is a veteran character actor in television from her earliest role as Mrs. Columbo to playing the first woman captain of a starship. Red is the aggressive but harmless (no drugs just sought after feminine products and sweets) smuggler who plays a mother role to many of the white inmates.
Uzo Aduba as Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren: This is one of the most complex yet lovable characters of OITNB. Wrongly institutionalized (she would be better suited in a mental health facility). She is part jester and part Greek chorus as she reflects off the characters. Aduba has brought a fully realized human to life, right down to the physical affectations. She is a native of Massachusetts and attended Boston University.
Danielle Brooks as Tasha "Taystee" Jefferson: another standout in bringing life to a character, Brooks plays the precocious Taystee, brought up in the foster homes and basically someone who has adapted to institutionalization preferring it to the outside world. The character was only slated to be featured in the first few episodes, but Brooks used her Juilliard training to make the role essential to the story development of season 2.
Natasha Lyonne as Nicky Nichols: sarcastic sober heroin addict, Lyonne has played this kind of character before (Law & Order SVU episode) but that doesn't mean she doesn't bring it out further here. She's the Litchfield stud and appears as a confidant to Piper and others
Taryn Manning as Tiffany "Pennsatucky" Doggett: the meth induced hillbilly from the religious right was the main nemesis of Piper for season one, but this year finds her opening up her horizons (and with her drug rotted teeth replaced with dentures) along with her mouth
Yael Stone as Lorna Morello: Morello is a timeless persona that looks more like a WWII Rosie the Riveter with her bright red lipstick and curled bob then a convicted mail order thief and stalker. Her delusions are balanced by a sweet disposition and innocent take on life. Australian born Morello does a fantastic Brooklyn accent from the 30's in this her first breakout role
Samira Wiley as Poussey Washington: army brat, lesbian, black felon, Wiley, another Juilliard alumni plays this downtrodden Poussey with grace, humor and intelligence.
Space doesn't permit me to go on, but a shout out goes to the character of Big Boo as well as a strong Hispanic cast, making OITNB the most diverse casting in television history. Don't get me started on the great male roles.