It is always nice to see a production of a lesser-known work by a famous playwright. Therefore I was intrigued to see Tennessee Williams play, Orphelus Descending. However, due to its highly melodramatic scenes and the overwritten dialogue, I’ve realized why this play is not often done.
Similar to most of Williams work the play takes place in a southern town. The play quickly opens with two town biddies gossiping and carrying on about Carol, a rather loose-young girl. When an out-of-town visitor named Val drops in, the girls all go a flutter. But things really don’t get interesting until Lady comes home with her bedridden husband. An unlikely love story blossoms between Lady and Val. This is where the true beauty of the play lies.
While a love story between an older woman and a young man is quite interesting, there is too much extraneous things interrupting in the periphery that subtract from the centrality of the piece. For instance; out of nowhere Lady reveals that she once was pregnant by Carol’s older brother, which has little relevance to anything else.. These superfluous moments, dropped out of the sky, detract from the story and make it feel like a contrived soap opera. And the ending which I won’t give away only adds to this experience.
Yet the actors do some nice work here. The connection between Val and Lady is real and we believe in their love. There is some beautifully written dialogue that happens between them that shows Williams prowess as a playwright. Irene Glezos and Todd D’amour play Lady and Val respectively. The two maintain good chemistry, and when the writing supports them, share some magical moments. The rest of the cast serves the play fine, despite emotionally indulging from time to time.
Director, Austin Pendleton, does his best to highlight the strengths of the play and he makes a good attempt at trying to distract us from its weaknesses. One qualm I have is that there is no intermission. Asking an audience to sit for over two and a half hours without a break is tedious and unfair. Also, much of the play happens around us and in odd locations that are often unlit. This makes the piece feel a little haphazard, unorganized, and random. That withstanding, a valiant attempt was made to revive this obscure play. While not Williams’ best play, there are some gems hidden in this script. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of them to sustain a two and a half hour performance.
Orpheus Descending plays now through May 14th at St Johns Church 81 Christopher St. www.facebook.com/orpheusinnyc.