(L to R) Richard Prioleau, Rebecca Gibel, Tiffany Nichole Greene, and Grant Chapman in Intiman Theatre’s Orpheus Descending.
I’ve been to lots of productions in Seattle that got what felt to me like an obligatory standing ovation, bravos for whatever cause a show seemed to trumpet. The other evening I went to Orpheus Descending, done by the Intiman at 12th Avenue Arts. It did not get a standing ovation.
Why no S.O.? Because it was so powerful we could hardly move.
Directed by Seattle local and public school product Ryan Purcell, Orpheus Descending is part of Intiman’s “The Williams Project,” devoted to producing the works of the great American playwright, Tennessee Williams. A Mississippi native, Williams wrote Orpheus in 1957, during the most productive stretch of his creative life. Still, it is not produced nearly as often as other of his more famous plays like A Streetcar Named Desire.
Set in the American South, Orpheus Descending draws on the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus, the singer of the music of the gods. In the classic story of Orpheus and Eurydice, Orpheus descends into the underworld to retrieve his lost wife, Eurydice. There he is killed by those who could not, or would not, hear his divine music. To say more would give too much away.
In Williams’ play, the Orpheus figure is a young man and musician, Val Xavier, played by Charlie Thurston. He wanders into town wearing a snakeskin jacket and carrying a case with an accordion inside. Oddly, the accordion is referred to throughout as a “guitar.” This touch, which wasn’t part of the original 1957 version, seemed to go with one leitmotif of Purcell’s production: Nothing is quite what it seems to be.
Anthony B. Robinson was the Senior Minister of Plymouth Church in downtown Seattle from 1990 to 2004. He was also a member of the Plymouth Housing Group Board. After living for many years in southeast Seattle, he moved recently to Ballard.