Orpheus Descending | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Orpheus Descending

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Orpheus Descending, Artistic Home. On the surface Tennessee Williams's 1957 drama--a rewrite of his first professionally produced play, Battle of Angels--is the stuff of soap opera. The story sounds preposterous: a handsome young drifter shakes up a small southern town when he becomes enmeshed in the life of a sexually frustrated middle-aged woman. And the supporting characters are the same shallow, almost comical creations that populate soaps: the town gossip, the sadistic sheriff, the violent redneck.

Two things save this almost campy work: the mythic themes Williams weaves through his story--a rough retelling of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice with a dash of Christ imagery--and the power and complexity of the main characters, who have back stories to burn. The sexy protagonist alone has packed enough excitement into his three decades to fill three lifetimes.

A director could do worse than follow Dan LaMorte's example. He populates this vivid production with two kinds of actors--the brassy sort who make stock figures instantly identifiable and the deeper, more subtle performers capable of communicating Williams's acres of subtext. In the former category, Mark Dillon is terrific as the grumbling, growling dying southern patriarch. In the latter, Dana Marini and Kathy Scambiatterra play the leads with riveting intensity.

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