By David Walters
What’s “impossible” about the play is that it contains the life force of Tennessee covering a 16-year developmental history that represents the loneliness and repression that he was trying to free himself from during his early years and the fatigue of that fight as he aged. In some ways there’s almost too much in there. Though if Tennessee were still alive, I feel he would still be working on it as the beginning acts are slow in dramatic movement and character development and only begin to pick up speed in the second act (of three) tumbling down to its tragic conclusion.
A wild spirit of a guitar playing young man, Val, (Pico Alexander) who just turned 30, makes his way to a small southern town strongly set in its prejudiced, racist, misogynistic, malicious and restrictive ways as he wants to change his life and move away from his previous carousing in New Orleans and make something of himself. He ends up getting a job at a local general store run by Lady (Maggie Siff,) who is in a 20-year marriage, by name only, to a sickly, both in mind and body, old man who pounds on the floor above with his cane to get her attention. Val falls for Lady, and vice versa, disrupting the world he has found himself in. Loneliness, fear, passion, sexuality, repression, themes that run through William’s work are all present. With a cast of 15, there are numerous other towns people who add color and gossip to their small lives lived.
The character Valentine Xavier (a name Tennessee was considering as his pen name) is played by Alexander with reigned-in strength covered by a steamy quiet resolve. He is fighting against what the world is trying to make him into and running away from a past that won’t seem to let him go (no matter where you go, there you are).
Siff as Lady, does a tremendous job of layering the emotions and restrictions that the character finds herself in and not being defeated by the heavy weight of oppression by societal norms that hold her fixed in place.
This is a deep, rich play with many layers that is not often done, probably due to the emotional complexity of the characters and the inherent disjointedness in the story. It’s a lot of work to produce and Theatre for a New Audience has done an admirable job with this production. You won’t get many an opportunity to watch this play, this is a strong cast, well directed, so if you’re interested in Tennessee Williams, do take the opportunity to read up on the play to be able to fully experience the many layers within and go see. It’s now playing through August 6, tickets here.
Orpheus Descending, written by Tennessee Williams, directed by Erica Schmidt.
The Company: Pico Alexander, Molly Kate Babos, Michael Cullen, Matt DeAngelis, Gene Gillette, Laura Heisler, Prudence Wright Holmes, Brian Keane, Julia McDermott, Ana Reeder, Maggie Siff, Kate Skinner, Fiana Tóibín, James Waterston, and Dathan B. Williams.
The Creative Team: Amy Rubin (Scenic Designer), Jennifer Moeller (Costume Designer), David Weiner (Lighting Designer), Justin Ellington (Sound Designer/Composer), Lorenzo Pisoni (Physical Movement Coordinator), Justin Cox (Properties Supervisor), John Lahr (Production Dramaturg), Andrew Wade (Voice Director), Xavier Clark (Dialect Coach), and Shane Schnetzler (Production Stage Manager).
Broolyn based Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA) is the producer and presenter. The venue is named Polonsky Shakespeare Center, which is TFANA’s home. All performances take place at Polonsky Shakespeare Center.
About two hours and forty-five minutes with one intermission.
As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.