Women don't have it so good in Tennessee Williams' plays, and Orpheus Descending is one of his darkest. In the production at St. John's Lutheran Church in the village, you can see why this one, with its histrionic speeches and soap opera story, is rarely produced. Which is why this production, low budget and noble, is its own kind of miracle, set where Christ and the apostles in stained glass can look on in sympathy and dismay. In Lady Torrance (Irene Glezos), Williams created a formidable heroine who is running the store, while her elderly husband (the legendary film star Keir Dullea) languishes sick. In comes a stranger (Todd d'Amour), a young man in a snakeskin jacket, who needs a job. Can you see where this is going?
Under Austin Pendleton's fine direction, a group of townsfolk -the setting is near New Orleans--fill in the canvas: the exhibitionist (Beth Bartley), the painter (Mia Dillon) who has visions and is also wife to the mean sheriff, women who have little opportunity to express themselves, "to live" as Lady Torrance bellows. Streetcar's Blanche is the perfect, if more delicate, example of this woman. Madness or death is her only road out. Orpheus Descending features strong themes of racism, and intolerance for immigrants and other "others." This production benefits from its collection of character actors like Karen Lynn Gorney. Back in the day, she starred in Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta. But mainly Tennessee's words carry, and make the heat rise.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.