Saturday, January 30, 2010

review - Orpheus Descending

Orpheus Descending
by Tennessee Williams
directed by Lou Pepe
through February 21

Considered one of Tennessee Williams darkest and most complex plays, 1957's Orpheus Descending is rarely produced. In typical Williams style, there is a sexually repressed and desperately lonely 'heroine', a solitary drifter, a loose woman who calls herself a 'benign exhibitionist', a multitude of gossipy, menacing females and a manipulative male townsfolk that exercise an inextricable control over them all. The harsh reality is made more palatable, for some of them, because of an overpowering spirituality that hovers imaginatively, like a bird with a broken wing, that yearns to fly once more. What sets Orpheus Descending apart from other Williams is that the issues represented are on a much bigger scale and their solutions out of reach. Like the Greek myth upon which it is based, with Orpheus and Eurydice, Orpheus Descending paints inescapable doom.
This is a lovely production of the play, directed by Lou Pepe, who permits his actors to explore without limits. Gale Harold as Val Xavier is a beautifully sensitive actor who brings an intense sensuality and quiet restlessness. A caring soul to women's needs, he is still a fugitive whose 'life's companion' remains his guitar. Branded 'a peculiar talker', his ruminations about not finding answers are prophetic, making him somewhat of a visionary as well. On the eve of Easter in Act III, shedding the snakeskin jacket he has worn throughout, he, if I dare to say it, could perhaps symbolize the Christ. Resurrection, new life. There is so much to think about; Williams challenges actors and audience to take it all in. Denise Crosby as Lady Torrance is the malcontented wife, miserable in her surroundings, vengeful and craving sexual attention. Crosby's Italian accent may be weak, but her passion is overflowing. Clear portraits are painted by Claudia Mason as Carol Cutrere, the town's lewd vagrant and by Francesca Casale as Vee Talbot, the visionary painter with bizarre religious/sacrilegious obsessions. Kelly Ebsary and Sheila Shaw make the prattling shrewish neighbors fun to watch, and Geoffrey Wade as Jabe Torrance and Andy Forrest as Sheriff Talbot both give fine portrayals of the domineering husbands.
Most assuredly, many different interpretations will emerge, but one line stays with me "I don't feel safe in this place, but I want to stay." Williams' lyrical contradictions provide some light, even if uncomfortable, at the end of the tunnel of darkness.
You can almost see the cobwebs and mildew in David Mauer's set of the decaying old store, and Jane Anderson's costumes lend period authenticity.
Orpheus Descending will keep you thinking long after you have left the theatre; this is a must-see production!
5 out of 5 stars

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