No perfect Tenn

Acting makes up for second-rate script

ORPHEUS DESCENDING by Tennessee Williams, directed by Miles Potter (Mirvish). At the Royal Alexandra (260 King West). To February 11. $26-$85. 416-872-1212. Rating:  NNN

Stratford‘s production of the Tennessee Williams play Orpheus Descending is a curious choice for the Mirvishes to remount at the Royal Alex.

First performed at the intimate Tom Patterson Theatre, the Miles Potter-directed show – the program says it was “based on” the earlier production – doesn’t argue convincingly to place the little-seen work up there with the Menagerie/Cat/Streetcar triumvirate.

Sketchy roles, too many symbols and a third act that slips like a cheap stocking into high-toned melodrama. Thank the lawd for the good performances.

Jonathan Goad plays Val Xavier, a good-time drifter and guitar player who’s just turned 30 and wants to stop bumming around. At a dry goods store somewhere between N’Awlins and Memphis, Val takes a job as a clerk, charming the owner’s upright and lonely Italian-American wife, Lady Torrance (Seana McKenna), as well as the other women who descend on the store like so many birds.

Oh, did I mention birds? Get out your notebooks, class. They’re one of the play’s chief symbols. Also burning wine gardens and resurrection, both religious and sexual.

Curiously enough, Williams doesn’t do enough with the Orpheus myth from the title. And there’s a coyness to the script. Williams writes around things, withholding key information.

Amidst all this, Goad creates a real troubled soul who’s torn between his old ways and the chance at love, while Dana Green, as another outcast, radiates need and pain in a way that’s oddly touching.

Lady Torrance is an almost unplayable role, and McKenna, employing an acceptable accent, brings out her pride and defiance – as well as her earthy humour – but can’t make up for the holes in her character.

Peter Hartwell‘s naturalistic set makes good use of the big stage, and Marc Desormeaux‘s sounds (nice guitar riffs in the soundscape) add a touch of down-south languor.

May their talents find better scripts in the future.

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