Trouble wears a snakeskin jacket

Orpheus Descending

By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Kymm Zuckert
Love Creek Productions
The Creative Place
Equity approved production (closed)
Review by David Mackler

If there is a stage direction in director Kymm Zuckert's copy of Tennessee Williams's Orpheus Descending that says "to be acted lyrically," she would have done better by the Love Creek production if she had ignored it. Much of the power in Williams's plays comes from his characters doing mundane, self-destructive, or violent things all the while surrounded by the poetical words they speak. But as soon as they seem aware of the lyricism, all is lost.

And in Orpheus Descending, the symbolism hangs thick, and the exposition is lengthy. So when Val Xavier (Val short for Valentine) tells Lady Torrance about the bird that cannot land but must stay in the air flying until it dies, it would be more meaningful (and less heavy-handed) if Val were talking about it for reasons other than metaphor. Sly seduction, perhaps; anger at the pointlessness of life, maybe; but the words for their own sake are obvious and labored. Omar Prince's Val was defeated by this approach, in spite of his unfeigned sincerity. Of course the play is set in a very different time and place, but that Winni Troha's Lady was honestly taken by him (and didn't laugh in his face) was a tribute to how she was able to convey her character's emotional deprivation and need. And this was in spite of being saddled with the thematic symbol of the closed confectionery shop that is attached to the general store she runs. Clearly there is no sweetness in this town, or for these people. But what is there?

Lots of emptiness, that's what, and the heat and reality of this production was in the ensemble. Neighbors, busybodies, town loonies -- they all had their moments, and most didn't overstay their welcome. Moira Boag, Lee Eypper, and Katherine Parks made their short scenes meaningful, and gave a real sense of what life in this empty small town was like. David Heston, Douglas Clark Johnson, Ron Hirt, and especially John Lisbon Wood, as Lady's husband, did the same as the various men who feel threatened by Val's presence. Val's snakeskin jacket might just as well have SEX glowing on it in neon, and you don't need to look closely to see DOOMED written on his forehead. While Carol Cutrere (Cynthia Granville)'s white makeup was meant to indicate sickliness, it was also faintly ridiculous.

But there was the occasional powerful moment, when the characters' pain was in character, not emblematic. When Carol's brother David (Francis Callahan) shows up to take her away, the scene between him and Lady was well-staged, and well-played. They obviously had a past relationship that did not end well, and while having them on opposite sides of the stage showed the gulf between them, Callahan and Troha fairly vibrated with tension. When Lady said, with a tremble in her voice, "I carried your baby in my body that summer you quit me," it was heartbreaking.

But it takes more than one scene to make theater out of symbols -- a guitar being a faithful companion, a barren fig tree bearing fruit, Valentine's being able to control "passing water," or his identifying with an escaped convict. Without a strong directorial hand, the elements remain elements. Joanie Schumacher assembled costumes that fit the time, place, and character, but songs played over scene changes were out of the time period. While it takes townspeople to make a town, a play without a center has more than one hole in it.

Also with Liz Forst, Marie Sassi, Tony White, Wende O'Reilly.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 0
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 David Mackler