By Tennessee Williams
BY DAVE DEPINO Orpheus Descending

Tennessee Williams holds the title of maestro in his ability to turn Southern Gothic melodrama into pulsating sexual energy. His 1959 offering of Orpheus Descending is a prime example of tempting lost souls, misfits with a promising last chance for happiness only to have them, ultimately, weave themselves into a tapestry of despair, danger, and classically operatic tragedy. His characters mostly find themselves trudging through risky, taboo territory with the light at the end of their fanciful tunnel of love being a destructive explosion of both actual and/or metaphorical carnage. When we first see Lady Torrance (Marilyn Fox), the middle-aged, Italian owner of the local mercantile shop in a small Tennessee town, she is a bitter, no-nonsense businesswoman–tough as nails with a heart that seems cold and impenetrable. She is the perfect target for the gossipy townswomen who seem a bit scared of her. Her self-built protective shell serves her well, but not well enough to shield her from the sultry, young stranger, Val Xavier (Greg Vignolle), who has drifted into town. In sharp contrast to the guitar toting, singing stud is Lady’s old, dying husband, the nasty and menacing Jabe Torrance (Brad Greenquist). Returning from a doctor’s visit, the ailing Jabe takes to his room upstairs where he is tended by his similarly no-nonsense nurse (Diane Hurley) and waited on by Lady. Adding to Williams’ menagerie of oddballs is a pathetic and deranged fast-living woman, Carol Cutrere (Alley Mills), who lays claim to knowledge of Val. Further, the town is mixed with rednecks of vitriolic predilections for scandal mongering and mischief. Soon, our Orpheus begins his descent into mythological Hades. The coupling of the cold Italian Lady whose heart begins to melt and soon boil with lusty thoughts and the brooding, smoldering, poetic rambler, Val, is typical Williams. As is usual with the Pacific Resident Theatre, this production is top notch. The wonderful Marilyn Fox is at the top of her game here. She cautiously sheds Lady’s armor to show a woman tormented by the death of her father, a loveless marriage, and a hopelessness that leaves her very vulnerable. Vignolle’s Val only skirts any sleaziness the character might suggest but rather presents a guarded innocence. He is a would-be romantic, as Lady says, “the boy’s a peculiar talker.” Vignolle gives Val rich and interesting levels. The actor seems to have mastered the secret of body language involving himself in the drama even when not speaking. Fox and Vignolle have stunning chemistry. Mills takes on the risky role of Carol, the very wild and messy, spoiled rich girl/woman. Greenquist exudes malevolence. The balance of the cast does fine work. The set (Stephanie Kerley Schwarz), lighting (Ed Cha) and costumes (Audrey Eisner) are all important factors in pulling off this period piece. Williams seems to be the only writers whose work can be termed period while only a half-decade-old. Director Elina de Santos grabs on to that very uniqueness which puts Williams in a class by himself. She respectfully embraces and carries her players into the wonderfully dark, dangerous, wispy, and stylistic maelstrom.

Performing at Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.; through December 6. Tickets $20-$23.50; box office 310/822-8392.

Pacific Resident Theater