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BWW Review: ORPHEUS DESCENDING at the Evergreen

The New Moon Theatre Company brings a fresh serving of Tennessee Williams to Memphis. Opening last weekend at the Evergreen Theater, ORPHEUS DESCENDING, Directed by Gene Elliott, draws on themes familiar to Williams fans: conformity and freedom, liberty and sacrifice, loneliness and the high cost of finding true human connections.

The setting, and the set, is the Torrance Dry Goods store where Lady Torrance (Tracie Hansom) presides as efficient business woman. Surrounding her is an able cast of town gossips: Dolly (Leslie Lansky), Beulah (Emily Peckham), Eva (Pat Bogan), and Sister (Kara Blackwood), make a lively chorus, offering wry judgments on everything around them. Lady's husband Jabe (Ron Gephart), who is many years her senior, languishes in an upstairs bedroom, dying. But he still has a few lightning bolts to cast down on everyone from his sick bed. All the action goes down in the little store. It's cramped and confining, but it works since we get a sense the characters want to burst out or escape. As for Lady, she gets by, enduring.

Into this narrow milieu wanders Val (David Hammons), with no more than the clothes on his back and a guitar. He's a loner and a drifter, but something else too --- he's young and handsome. He reeks with an insouciant sexuality that captures the interest, or at least the admiring eyes, of all the females. And yet we're not sure about Val. Who is he? Why has he landed at the drab little store in the drab little town? The man is clearly running from something, from his own past, even though he's only thirty. The spirited Carol (Michelle Miklosey) is determined to remind him of this ....recalling a magical New Years' Eve they shared in New Orleans. And she makes a rather convincing case --- to everyone but Val, who refuses to acknowledge her. Now Carol only wants to go juke jointin'. But no, Val has left all that behind, or wants to but it's not easy. He's still the artist, still a player. Wandering into town broke and needing work, he manages to convince Lady to hire him in the store. Soon his good looks catch her in a web, and the die is cast. The drama between them is the emotional key to this play, which asks . . .will Lady and Val stand up for each other? For love? For life? How far will they go to find out? Yes, it's complicated . . . deliciously so.

Tracie Hansom is admirable as Lady, transitioning from serious business owner to vulnerable lover, exposing the hard bargains she's made, her frustrations and compromises. Michelle Miklosey is splendid as Carol, charming us with a coquettish yet principled character who embodies the spirit of life. She wanders between the small town and the Big Easy, seeking little more than a drink and a dance partner. It earns her the town's condemnation, but so what? We're on her side. And Ron Gephart comes on strong with the scary power he brings to Jabe the patriarch.

ORPHEUS DESCENDING isn't Tennessee Williams' most focused tale, but when Lady and Val get their groove going, the story picks up for a rousing finish. Memorable lines will resonate as you leave the theater. Go see this energetic production from New Moon of a Williams play not often staged.

The New Moon Theatre Company production of ORPHEUS DESCENDING will be performed at The Evergreen Theatre, 1705 Poplar Avenue in Memphis, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2.p.m. through June 26, 2016. Tickets are available at the door, or online.

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From This Author - Austin McLellan