Monday, August 14, 2023

Orpheus Descending

Tennessee Williams’s play Orpheus Descending (recently at the Theatre for a New Audience) was the first of his works to be produced. While it is not one of his masterpieces, it is still rich, sad, funny, fascinating, and compellingly overwrought.

As described on TFANA’s website, the play “tells the story of the passion of two outcasts—Lady Torrance, a storekeeper’s wife and daughter of a murdered Sicilian bootlegger, and Val, a wandering guitar player—and their attempt to escape from a Southern Hell.”

Lady (the excellent Maggie Siff) and Val (Pico Alexander) must negotiate dealings with a wide variety of townspeople: Maggie’s husband, deathly ill but still quite powerful and mean; Carol Cutere, a needy young woman with little chance of ever getting her needs met; Vee Talbott (the wonderful Ana Reeder), who turns her religious visions into paintings; and her husband, the sheriff, who operates in a much more concrete–and dangerous–manner. There are also the town gossips, Maggie’s husband’s nurse, and others. 

Lady and Val exist in a different world than the rest of the town, and they inevitably get involved, despite the dangers of doing so. They talk and actually listen to each other, they understand each other, and they are deeply drawn to each other physically. Most importantly, they find hope in each other.

Erica Schmidt’s direction of the TFANA production left much to be desired in terms of clarify and use of space. The cast was uneven. Maggie Siff had the presence and skill necessary to ground the play in the underpinning of reality that it needs. Pico Alexander lacked the animal magnetism required by his role, which threw off the balance of the play. But all in all, the TFANA production was vibrant and alive.

Wendy Caster

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