When the play appeared in 1957, Williams wrote, "[o]n the surface it was and still is the tale of a wild-spirited boy who wanders into a conventional community of the South and creates the commotion of a fox in a chicken coop. But beneath that now familiar surface it is a play about unanswered questions that haunt the hearts of people and the difference between continuing to ask them...and the acceptance of prescribed answers that are not answers at all."
The play is a modern retelling of the ancient Greek Orpheus legend and deals, in the most elemental fashion, with the power of passion, art, and imagination to redeem and revitalize life, giving it new meaning. The story is set in a dry goods store in a small southern town marked, in the play, by conformity, sexual frustration, narrowness, and racism. Into this scene steps Val, a young man with a guitar, a snakeskin jacket, a questionable past, and undeniable animal-erotic energy and appeal. He gets a job in the dry goods store run by a middle-aged woman named Lady, whose elderly husband is dying. Lady has a past and passions of her own. She finds herself attracted to Val and to the possibility of new life he seems to offer. It is a tempting antidote to her loveless marriage and boring, small-town life. The play describes the awakening of passion, love, and life -- as well as its tragic consequences for Val and Lady.
The play deals with passion, its repression and its attempted recovery. On another level, it is also about trying to live bravely and honestly in a fallen world. The play is replete with lush, poetic dialogue and imagery. On the stage, the opening sections seem somewhat lacking in dramatic movement, but the play picks up power as the characters are developed and it moves to its climax. Val, representing Orpheus, represents the forces of energy and eros, which, buried as they are in compromise and everyday mundanity, have the tragic power to create life anew.
QUEENS COLLEGE DEPARTMENT OF DRAMA, THEATRE & DANCE, AARON COPLAND SCHOOL OF MUSIC PRESENT NEW YORK PREMIERE OF ORPHEUS DESCENDING
Feb 21, 2006; The City University of New York's Queens College issued the following news release: Orpheus Descending had its world premiere in...