Orpheus Descending | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Orpheus Descending


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ORPHEUS DESCENDING, Trap Door Theatre. Watching Tennessee Williams's Orpheus Descending is like drinking orange juice concentrate straight from the can: it's much of a muchness. This reworking of his first Broadway play, Battle of Angels, focuses on sultry vagrant blues singer Val, who wanders into a dry goods store in a small southern town. Lady, the shop's sexually repressed owner, has spent the best years of her life watching her hateful husband refuse to die. Of course Val opens and loosens her sluices. Given the oppressive cultural climate--the Klan is the town's unofficial welcome wagon--not to mention Williams's penchant for desperate and impossible love, inevitably the play is a gothic catastrophe waiting to happen. Williams never lets you forget it, keeping the whole affair at a rolling boil for three long acts.

Any director tackling this script needs to turn the heat off now and again, if only to prevent the play from turning into self-parody. Director Michael S. Pieper instead tries to turn up Williams's flame, resulting in a lot of forced melodrama with actors reciting nearly every line as though it held the key to the universe. Ultimately the performers spend so much time trying to connect with the play's grand passions that they forget to connect with one another.

--Justin Hayford

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