ORPHEUS DESCENDING by Tennessee Williams, directed by Rita Spannbauer, with Tricia Brioux, Sean Curran, Tracy Rankin, Sandi Ross and Paul Soren. Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley). Runs to February 9, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $15, Thursday 2-for-1, Sunday pwyc. 416-364-4170. Rating: NN Rating: NN
tennessee williams's strongest characters are, ironically, those who seem the weakest -- needy, alone and struggling to survive. Think Blanche Dubois. Orpheus Descending's Lady Torrance, caught in a loveless marriage and treated as an outsider in a southern town, could be Blanche's cousin. The arrival of the guitar-playing drifter Val offers her a chance at salvation in Williams's flawed but intriguing play. The heavyweights in Rita Spannbauer's production are the women, notably Tricia Brioux's Lady and Tracy Rankin's Carol. Rankin's haunted Carol broadcasts both sexual energy and childlike innocence, while Brioux has just the right instincts for the weary, husky-voiced Lady, who tries to maintain an independent front but finally capitulates to her need for Val.
Sandi Ross's Conjure Woman -- gender-switched from the original script -- sparks the action whenever she's onstage, whether she's singing or injecting a surreal, poetic moment into this story of the vengeance a small town wreaks on anyone it considers "other."
The weak link is Sean Curran's Val, competently done and underplayed in a curious fashion, but without the sensuality the role demands. Val's a magnet for every woman, but the miscast Curran doesn't even suggest the man's charisma. Without the electricity between Val and Lady, this Orpheus can only fall at half speed.