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CurtainUp DC Review
by Rich See
The basic story line is that Valentine Xavier (mesmerizingly portrayed by Matt Bogart) arrives in the small, rural county of Two Rivers. The town he alights at is never given a name as it represents any town, in any place, that is small and mistrustful of outsiders. Val's goal is to escape his previous life of partying and "corruption," which began when he left the bayou at fifteen. Now on the eve of his thirtieth birthday, he is looking to fit in to good society. Alas though, he is simply different -- a wild spirit -- something that intrigues, yet frightens, almost everyone in Two Rivers County except for three kindred spirits. His sudden appearance wakes up the desire to live within the vision-seeing sheriff's wife Vee Talbott (played with great aplomb by Janice Duclos), as well as the listless general drygoods story owner's wife Lady Torrance (delivered with hard-nosed cynicism by Chandler Vinton). While Two Rivers' resident "lewd vagrant" Carol Cutrere (magically played by Kate Goehring) desperately wants to save Val from making a terrible mistake. It's a compelling piece of theatre, made more compelling when you realize that rural life in the United States can still be a stifling and unwelcome place for wild spirits who are doing no one any harm.
Director Molly Smith shows an innate sense of the comedy and timing within Williams' work. The production moves at a steady and relaxed pace like a slowly developing waltz across the stage, represented most by Chandler Vinton's Lady Torrance as the barren store owner who slowly comes back to life -- both metaphorically and physically -- before being cut down by an unyielding societal demand for destruction of anything moving beyond its grasp. Bill C. Ray's simple drygoods store set is a masterpiece of old southern life, highlighted by Michael Gilliam's impressive lighting. (The skylines coming up representing day and night are really beautiful.) Linda Cho's costumes fit the bill to take us to a pre-civil rights deep south.
The rest of the cast is filled out by the Greek chorus of Beulah Binnings, Dolly Hamma, Eva Temple, and Sister Temple played respectively by Kate Kiley, Rena Cherry Brown, Lind High, and Anne Stone. Representing the societal status quo are the men of Two Rivers County -- who also make up the Klu Klux Klan-like "Mystic Crew" -- Sheriff Talbott, Jabe Torrance, Pee Wee, and Dog Hamma (Delaney Williams, J. Fred Shiffman, Bruce M. Holmes, and Paul Morella). And Frederick Strother is Uncle Pleasant, an oracle-like voice of foreboding who only Carol Cutrere is tuned into hearing.
Once you tap into the Greek and Christian symbolism of the piece, along with the South that Williams grew up in, the play becomes a fascinating look at themes that still run through our lives. Orpheus Descending is definitely a must see, especially if you are investing time in the other Tennessee Williams productions going on around town.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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