By Tennessee Williams
Beverly Press/Park LaBrea News

Orpheus Descending
Pacific Resident Theatre

Witnessing a masterpiece event is a rare and wonderful experience. We were fortunate indeed to be in the audience to watch Marilyn Fox’s incandescent performance in “Orpheus Descending”, Tennessee Williams’ paean to the indomitable nature of the human spirit. Williams’ plays have a lot in common with each other in the sense that they deal to a large extent in dramatizing indelible women. Maggie the cat in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” comes to mind as do “Rose Tattoo”, Serafina in “The Rose Tattoo”, and Blanche DuBois in “A Street Car Named Desire”. Fox as Lady Torrance in Pacific Resident Theatre’s production of “Orpheus” directed by the equally indomitable Elina de Santos, is morethan outstanding. Her performance is momentus, vital, peerless and unforgettable.

Lady Torrance is a pathetic figure as viewed by the harpes of the small Mississippi town where she runs Torrance Mercantile, the general store owned by her ailing husband Jabe (Brad Greenquist in a fine performance).

In a lengthy exposition which extends longer than a contemporary playwright could afford, Dolly (Lisa Denke) and Beulah (immaculately conceived by Mary Van Arsdel), two lively gossips, introduce us to Lady, the daughter of an Italian immigrant who shocked the townspeople by opening a wine garden with private arbors where people could drink and spoon while enjoying the music. Fired by self-righteousness, angry elders burned down the property, along with it’s owner, Lady’s father. Lady describes herself as being “bought at a fire sale” by the ugly-spirited Jabe. The arrival of an itinerant bad boy musician, Val Xavier (a nicely steamy Greg Vignolle), looking for work, sets a new fire in Lady’s body. Courting local and conjugal disapproval much as her father had, Lady is drawn into Val’s spell by the depth of her need. Since there is no question but that tragedy is inevitable, it’s not the plot here that directs the production, it’s the force of Fox’s performance. Her hunger is so real and so raw that we are awed and moved to tears and anger at small town stupidity, despite the creaky predictability of the plot.

As the slightly deranged bad girl in town, Carol Cutrere, Alley Mills once more proves her incredible versatility. Dan Verdin nicely avoids the stereotype as Sheriff Talbott, as does Sharron Shayne as Vee, his artistic/physic wife, a Williams staple. Diane Hurley is suitable horrid as Nurse Porter, and the inevitable conundrum (what does this mean?) character. Uncle Pleasant is mysteriously portrayed by Curtis C.

De Santos managers to walk the fine line between satire of this genre-specific play and visceral reality, without embarrassing her actors, demeaning the poet’s soaring art, or talking down to an allegedly sophisticated audience. On Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’ amazing set with Ed Cha’s lighting and Audrey Eisner’s costumes, “Orpheus Descending” gleams like a new play.

Pacific Residne Theatre, 603 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA. Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sunday at 3:00pm until December 7. $20-$23.50. (310) 822-8392.

November 13, 2003

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