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A CurtainUp Review
Orpheus Descending
David Lohrey

Can you understand how anybody would deliberately make themselves look fantastic as that?

Omar Prince and Cynthia Granville
Omar Prince and Cynthia Granville
It is a rare treat to find a full-length Tennessee Williams' play in an Off Off-Broadway venue. The movie stars may still clamor to play Blanche Dubois, but Williams' lesser or at least lesser-known works remain largely neglected. Love Creek Productions has done an outstanding job of bringing this minor masterpiece to the stage. Tucked away above an 8th Avenue grocery store, this postage stamp-sized theatre doesn't seem big enough for a cast of seventeen, but under the able direction of Kymm Zuckert, everybody moves with grace, while creating an atmosphere of congested claustrophobia that is not altogether inappropriate for this play about suppressed yearning and desperation.

There are numerous things that have been done to ensure fidelity to Williams' dramatic vision, beginning with the set by Viola Bradford. Tacky is a Southern expression meaning low-class, and tacky is the right word to describe Ms Bradford's recreation of a small town store. She's got everything just about right, beginning with a marvelous 10 ton cast iron cash register, broken furniture, an old-fashioned wall phone, and a pot-bellied stove.

Joanie Schumacher's costumes would not be important were it not for the fact that Williams' characters make a big deal about what they and others wear. Cynthia Granville (Carol Cutrere) wears a slinky, black dress that is perfect for a woman who feels the need to dress up at mid-day. If she doesn't look like she about to bust right out of her dress, the newly arrived fox in the henhouse looks as though he might bust out of his. Omar Prince (Val Xavier) wears his signature snakeskin jacket and black jeans with just the right flair for the dramatic. The rest of the town's women are well attired in pre-war garb, while the townsmen are made to look all the meaner for not caring how they look.Tony White's Uncle Pleasant the shrieking Choctaw looks as though he crawled right out of a beaver's nest dug into the banks of the Mississippi. He is as impressive as he is hilarious

This is for the most part an extremely well cast production. Numerous outstanding performances are worth noting. Among them are those of Moira Boag (Beula Binnings), Cynthia Granville (Carol Cutrere), Omar Prince (Val Xavier), Winni Troha (Lady Torrance) and John Lisbon Wood (Jabe Torrance). Each makes the most of his or her first entrance.

Ms Granville is marvelously compelling as an emotional time bomb. She succeeds at once in making herself the center of attention while expressing shame for having done so. She is alluring and repulsive; her sexuality scares her as much as it frightens everyone else. She's dangerous and knows it.

Williams' signature set of obnoxious Southern ladies make their appearances, providing both comic relief and further insight into Carol's desperation. The women as a whole have been well cast and well directed. Moira Boag (Beulah Binnings) stands out by conveying uniquely her capacity for cruelty. She mixes concern with vulgar curiosity and shows why most sane women would rather conform than fight back. She's a real battle-ax and doesn't show a hint of introspection.

Winni Troha (Lady Torrance) has a wonderful stage voice and conveys absolutely her deep sense of compassion gained through personal suffering. This is a graceful actress, who's able to communicate sexuality without words. John Lisbon Wood (Jabe Torrance) has the perfect body for a man dying of heartlessness. He comes on stage as tightly wired as a wild animal. This is old-fashioned male rage, the kind that can only be settled through violence. Wood delivers the goods and then some.

Omar Prince (Val Xavier) offers a fine performance that grows on you. We get much more from him than first impressions would suggest. Playing opposite Ms Granville, Prince shows tremendous discipline. He restrains himself, thus succeeding in making himself appear as mysterious as she. Together, they show the despair of those who know they cannot have what they want.

That all this is made to happen in so small a space is a tribute to Ms Zuckert's direction. Tennessee has numerous neglected masterpieces. It is a pleasure to see one that has received such loving care.

Orpheus Descending
Written by Tennessee Williams.
Director: Kymm Zuckert.

Cast: Omar Prince, Winni Troha, Cynthia Granville, Katherine Parks, Marie Sassi, and John Lisbon Woods.
Scenic Design: Viola Bradford.
Costume Design: Joanie Schumacher.
Running Time: 2 Hours w/ two 15-minute intermissions
The Creative Place Theatre, 750 8th Ave., at 46th, Suite 600, (201) 769-7973 X3.
11/14/2002--12/08/02. Runs Tues thru Sunday at 8pm, and Sunday, 11/24 at 7pm.
Reviewed by David Lohrey based on performance of 11/21/02.

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