Orpheus Descending

Orpheus Descending

by Tennessee Williams

A play in three acts by Tennessee Williams.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Plays
  • Rating: 3.86
  • Pages: 83
  • Publish Date: January 1st 1958 by Dramatists Play Service
  • Isbn10: 0822208652
  • Isbn13: 9780822208655

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Williams retells the legend of Orpheus, shaping it in his own unique way, creating a story that is poignant with sorrow and just as capable of causing catharsis as those legendary Greek tragedies. Val, the musician (our Orpheus) strand out in a variety of ways, but mostly because he is capable of sincerity and tenderness. Little does Val know that he has come to a sinister place, an underworld of a sorts, where a beautiful lady is trapped. Not surprisingly, Lady, a woman who was forced into marriage to a man she doesnt love falls for Val, a young handsome guitar player. In one of their conversations, Val teases Myra, saying that being so slim and petite, she probably cant even take the weight of the man, and Myra responds quite seriously that the act of love making is absolutely painful for her, but that she endures it, because a person will endure everything for the sake of chasing the loneliness away. I do wonder why Tallulah turned out that Myra role, she supposedly said that the play was impossible. Tennessee is brilliant when it comes to connecting themes of passion, love, sexuality and loneliness. The myth of Orpheus is retold and art founds a wonderful and befitting personification in the character of Val. The play is certainly tragic but very touching and profound in its tragedy. What I did not expect from this play was the strength of its message, the way its characters and story merged into one. In one way, this play can be read as a commentary on art itself, in another it can be read as a story.

In fact, he wrote poetry for much of his life, and he and his firmest advocate - James Laughlin, the founder of the New Directions publishing house, where almost all of Williams' texts (plays, poetry, short stories, two novels, essays, memoirs) first appeared - formed their lifelong bond after an enthused evening discussing their favorite poets. Columbus, Mississippi - Williams' birthplace But it is high time that I focus on a single play: Orpheus Descending. On the surface indeed, for during the five re-writes Battle of Angels underwent to become Orpheus Descending,(*) Williams decided to re-cast the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in this emotional record of his youth, changing the dictionary-toting poet of the earlier play to the guitar-toting musician of the later. Orpheus Descending is indeed chock-a-block full of secondary characters who are types - real types - but types nonetheless, and each played a useful/necessary role in the piece.(***) It is a mystery to me that some critics label Williams as a "naturalist" or as a "realist". His plays are "true" but hardly "real"; Williams was a highly theatrical dramatist enamoured of symbols, morals, language and emotions and possessed of a great compassion and acceptance of persons of all types,(4*) believing himself to be of the "fugitive kind", and not merely because he was homosexual. Far from being a Naturalist or Realist, Williams was a Romantic, and to be a Romantic in the 20th century was to be of the fugitive kind.

And unlike some of his other plays, including the good ones, even the secondary character were really interesting and could've been easily developed further were it necessary.

On paper, I find them to be a bit flat, but I know that a good actor and director can really find the life in them, and that the flatness is mostly the result of my laziness. I didn't much like either of the two main metaphors. The characters seem drawn to this image, which they see as a metaphor for freedom? The other idea I didn't like so much is that we are all prisoners condemned to solitary confinement in our own skins.

Despite a number of obvious flaws and a place of relative obscurity in Williams' body of work, I consider Orpheus Descending to be my favorite of his plays that I've read so far. I think this one falls on shaky territory because of the blunt and unforgiving violence. But I have yet to experience violence as abrupt and cruel as the kind exacted in Orpheus, and this is in printed words alone. And not only that, but several threats made throughout the play are treated almost comically, making the end result even harder to swallow.

When I think of the mean, violent, racist characters of this play, I feel like that too. Val, the music-loving wanderer (an Orpheus-like figure) who appeals to women tired of macho domination meets an end which you can predict from the first page. People need love, yes, but they also need to own others, they need to feel superior by putting down others or even by hurting others. To paraphrase what Val says, There are three kinds of people in the world; those that are bought, those that buy, and those that remain unbranded.

He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. Characters such as Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie and Sebastian in Suddenly, Last Summer were understood to represent Williams himself. The Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955.