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Orpheus Descending at Shattered Globe Theatre | Theater review

Julieanne Ehre helms a strong ensemble in Tennessee Williams’s reworking of Greek myth.
Photograph: Ashley Kamin Orpheus Descending at Shattered Globe Theatre
By Oliver Sava |

In the Greek myth, Orpheus loses his beloved Eurydice after he travels to the underworld to retrieve her soul. When Orpheus Descending’s Lady (Eileen Niccolai) meets burned-out musician Val (Joseph Wiens), she sees an opportunity to escape her loveless marriage, willing to follow Val out of hell if he’ll take her.

Tennessee Williams’s 1957 drama has the familiar elements of his early work: a Southern setting, a forbidden romance and a sexually repressed female lead. Yet in broadening the story’s scope, the script gets weighed down by the playwright’s ambition. The romance between Lady and Val is the play’s emotional core; when Williams moves away from that to discuss race and class issues, the momentum takes a dip.

Despite some inconsistent accents, the ensemble convincingly creates the tense, conservative environment. Heather Townsend is particularly impressive as Carol, the promiscuous black sheep of the wealthy Cutrere family. The physically imposing actress is an unorthodox choice for the submissive character, but that doesn’t stop her from capturing Carol’s emotional vulnerability.

The chemistry between Wiens and the exceptional Niccolai fuels the production, while Wiens’s musical talent brings the lovers together through song. Director Julieanne Ehre builds their relationship organically over the play’s nearly three hours, guiding the actors through a turbulent series of revelations leading to the play’s fiery finale.

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