Orpheus Descending

By Tennessee Williamsorpheus descending at shattered globe theatre 2.0

Directed by Julieanne Ehre

Produced by Shattered Globe Theatre 2.0

At Stage 773, Chicago

Power performances glide us through Williams’ symbolic drama

Tennessee Williams’ 1957 play, Orpheus Descending, is a richly symbolic passion play about how the rural misfits linger in search of meaningful existence and fulfillment.  Set in the 1950’s in a bigoted rural Louisiana town, Orpheus Descending finds Lady (Eileen Niccolai), a frustrated and lonely middle-aged woman stuck in a loveless marriage to a sickly nasty man, Jabe (Kevin Kenneally). The small town gossip fueled by Beulah (Jessica Thigpen) and Dolly (Courtney Boxwell) that swiftly sets the tone and fills us with enough back-story as it set the tone of bleakness of rural living.

orpheus descending at shattered globe theatre 2.0

The story features several fugitive characters that always found there way into Tennessee Williams’ plays, including Carol (Heather Townsend) a loose woman barred from the town due to her promiscuity to Vee (Alice Pacyga)- a religious fanatic obsessed with ‘visions’ and paintings.  The loner, Val (Joseph Wiens), a guitar playing young Elvis type, comes to town in a snakeskin jacket,  with a questionable past. He exudes  an undeniable animal-erotic energy and  sex appeal that lady finds irresistible.

orpheus descending at shattered globe theatre 2.0

Both Val and Lady seek a new start in life- for happiness – to ‘not be defeated’ by life. Val is searching for stability and love  and an end to his ‘wondering ways.’ His job at Lady’s dry-goods store is a start. Subtle sparks fly as both jaded, unhappy folks seek comfort and fulfillment in each other.

Things boil over as passion, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness consume the folks. The powerful savage ending is both symbolic and telling. The drama is played as realism but the pervading Greek myth of Orpheus shies through.  Joseph Wiens stoically guarded performance work well with Eileen Niccolai’s powerfully sensuous Lady. The sparks and passion erupt and explode as the myth is played out.

orpheus descending at shattered globe theatre 2.0

The acting is superb; the Southern accents are real; and the directing (by Julieanne Ehre skillfully avoids the trapping of melodrama). The drama is rich in subtly and hidden angst that leads to rage. Williams’ poetic language plays nicely with his rich symbolism. The result of all these  elements is a powerful, searing drama. A Tennessee Williams play is not to be missed.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: February 23, 2012

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout the Orpheus Descending page at theatreinchicago.com

At Stage 773, 1225 Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL, shatteredglobe.org, tickets $28 – $34, Wednesday thru Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through March 11, 2012