Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Orpheus Descending"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark


"Orpheus Descending"

by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Fran Weinberg

Set And Lighting Designed by Jeff Gardiner
Sound And Props by Michael Barrett
Costume Coordinator Amy Barber

Bellah Binnings...................Dorothy Brodesser
Dolly Hamma........................Roberta Gilbert*
Pee Wee Binnings..Dared Wright*/Joe Zamparelli, Jr.
Dog Hamma............................Bill Gardiner*
Carol Cutrere.........................Alisha Jansky
Conjur Man............................Jason Stewart
Valentine Xavier..............Gordon Gauntlett, Jr.
Vee Talbot....................Christopher Noel Hall
Lady Torrance.......................Donna Sorbello*
Jabe Torrance.....................Michael Bradshaw*
Sheriff Talbot.......................Warren Steele*
Mr. Dubinsky...........................Fred Robbins
Woman on The Phone......................Lida McGirr
David Cutrere............................David Loar
Nurse Porter............................Norma Fine*

*Members of Actors' Equity Association


"Orpheus Descending" is a perfect choice for an Equity Members' Project. There are at least fifteen characters in this big, sprawling anthology of Tennessee Williams' major preoccupations, every one of them demanding experienced and knowledgeable actors. In this Boston Actors' Ensemble production, Lida McGirr had to dash in demanding to use the phone, shout a few sentences to the sheriff about the hubbub taking place outside, and dash out eagerly hoping to see its denouement. Earlier, Fred Robbins came that same door for only one line as a grumpy druggist dragged from sleep to deliver sleeping pills. Either walk-on, badly played, could leave a hole in the fabric of this large, complicated tapestry of spiteful small-town passions. Neither of them did.

The play has several unresolved loose ends, stray characters and unexplored ideas, and it takes a long time deciding which of these many threads and people to concentrate on. The scene is Jabe Torrance's Mercantile Store, and it opens as old man Torrance (Michael Bradshaw) comes home from exploratory surgery to die in an upstairs room. His ageing, vindictive wife (Donna Sorbello) has plans to remake the back room into a night club, and hires a thirty-year-old drifter with a blues guitar (Gordon Gauntlett, Jr.) to help out and sell things. This drifter seeks to give up life as a singer and a gigolo, but the lady's Italian ancestry and rocky marriage makes that impossible --- to their ruin.

Director Fran Weinberg saw to it that every character got a moment center-stage, but on the wide Studio 210 stage this 3-ring circus of a play looked like the playwright couldn't bear to throw away any early ideas. Dorothy Brodesser and Roberta Gilbert began the play as a kind of chorus of biddy busybody gossips, dropping hints about everyone they see and commenting on whatever happens. Alisha Jansky swoops through the store as a flapper left over from the Jazz Age, eager to drive and drink and dance all night "Jukin'". Christopher Noel Hall is the wife of the sheriff, who paints her visions of how things ought to look. Jason Stewart plays an old Choctaw/Negro half-breed Conjur Man, the very sight of whom terrifies the biddy-chorus, who says nary a word but will emit a "Choctaw yell" for a dollar. Warren Steele is the no nonsense Southern sheriff who takes smouldering delight in setting his dogs on any escaping prisoners. Dared Wright and Bill Gardiner are his sleazy henchmen. Norma Fine is old man Torrance's nurse. David Loar has one tensely resonant scene with Donna Sorbello, revealing them as ex lovers.

But eventually the play simmers down to concentrate on Lady Torrance and Valentine Xavier the drifter --- on her plans to recreate the torched night club of her murdered father, and his hopes of putting sins of the flesh behind him. His flights of poetry and her unforgiving contempt for the pinched, hypocritical townsfolk, who can understand neither of them, doom them both. They are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It's a pleasure to see so many good actors on the same stage together, all of them not merely looking but being the people they portray. This is indeed a complicated script that no company could afford to produce on anything like this level of expertise. And it was obvious that everyone connected with it took considerable pleasure in slipping on these vivid, eloquent characters, and then stretching to find out their limits. And the pleasure of performers always translates into pleasure for the audience as well.

Love,
===Anon.

"Orpheus Descending" (till 21 June)
BOSTON ACTORS' ENSEMBLE
Studio 210, 264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON
1(617)921-6845

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