GMU Players, Department of Theater Present Tennessee Williams’ ‘Orpheus Descending’

Posted: March 2, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: March 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm

GMU Players and George Mason University’s Department of Theater present Tennessee Williams’ 1957 American classic, “Orpheus Descending,” at TheatreSpace on Mason’s Fairfax Campus. Performances are scheduled for March 4, 5 and 6 at 8 p.m., and March 6 and 7 at 2 p.m.

A free preview performance will be held on Wednesday, March 3, at 8 p.m., and a post-performance discussion will be offered on Saturday, March 6, at 2 p.m.

“Orpheus Descending” is set in a small southern town, not far from Williams’ ancestral home of Clarksdale, Miss.

The story tells the tale of Val, a young musician with a guitar, good looks and a questionable past, who wanders into a conventional small town and takes a job at a store run by a middle-aged woman named Lady, who has a past of her own and a loveless marriage with an elderly husband who is dying.

Lady becomes entranced with Val and is tempted by the possibility of a new life that he seems to offer. Underscored by mountain music and Delta blues, this retelling of the Greek legend of the musician and poet Orpheus and his bride Eurydice tests the endurance of art, love, truth and justice through a drifting musician’s chance arrival and a townswoman’s offer to take him in.

The legendary author of such works as “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “The Glass Menagerie,” Tennessee Williams is among the most beloved and prolific playwrights in American history.

He was the recipient of four Drama Critic Circle Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His plays have appeared on Broadway and many were made into major motion pictures, including “Orpheus Descending,” which was adapted into the film “The Fugitive Kind,” directed by Sidney Lumet in 1959. A revival starring Vanessa Redgrave was also adapted as a television movie.

While Williams’ plays earned him critical success and numerous honors, his life was plagued by depression and drug and alcohol abuse. He died on Feb. 24, 1983.

Director Kristin Johnsen-Neshati has been a member of Mason’s theater faculty since 1993. In addition to her work as a translator, director and writer, Johnsen-Neshati serves as dramaturg and artistic associate for Theater of the First Amendment, where she has worked on more than 30 productions and workshops.

She is the recipient of the KCACTF Criticism Faculty Fellowship to the Critics Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and Mason’s Fenwick Fellowship. She holds a BA in Russian and theater from Swarthmore College, and MFA and DFA degrees in dramaturgy and dramatic criticism from the Yale School of Drama.

The GMU Players ensemble is a dynamic faculty-directed, student organization within the theater department. The Mainstage Series provides students the opportunity to work directly with Mason theater faculty and guest artists, while the Studio Series is selected, directed and designed by students. The GMU Players produce eight productions each season.

Tickets are $12; $8 for students, seniors and Mason faculty and staff. A limited number of free tickets are available for Mason students.

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