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Director Erica Schmidt on the Vibes and Violence of Tennessee Williams' 'Descent of Orpheus'

What a heartbreaking scene.

What a heartbreaking scene. If you play this role with Dog or Pee Wee, you lose something. When James comes in, his presence brings a lot of things. And the nurse Fiana Tóibín, whose cold malice as she comes in, wouldn’t have had the same impact had she been Beulah too.

How does this show map to the Orpheus myth?

Classical mythology tells the story of Orpheus going to hell to get Eurydice from Hades. He was allowed to take her out of hell on the condition that he never look back. He just had to trust that she was there. But of course, at the last second, he looked back and he lost her. Val, as Orpheus, descends into this hell, that is, this town, and the hell of the marriage of the Lady and Gaub. Orpheus has his harp, Val has his guitar. And he has the power to bring her out. But at the last second, they looked back and both were destroyed. In the myth, Orpheus is torn apart by the Thracian women, and in the play, Vaal is also torn and destroyed.

Where exactly is that fatal backward glance in the show?

In the final scene, Val tells the lady that he has to leave, that he is in danger, but before he leaves, he just wants to tell her, “I feel true love for you.” But she begs him to stay. Then they found out she was pregnant and she let him go, she gave him the car keys but he didn’t go. We talked a lot about why he didn’t leave. He could not, the myth had confined him there. If they kept going, if the lady didn’t come up the stairs screaming: “I won, I won, Mister Death, I’m going to live with it!”

Is looking backwards also about Lady trying to reconstruct her history with Candy’s resurrection, as you say, “bringing back what she lost” to make up for what happened to her father, instead of moving on and into something new they could create together?

I love this. Jesus is in it too, it’s Holy Week, Xavier is Val’s name, Vi sees him as Christ, he’s like Christ because he sacrificed himself for the lady. Williams borrowed this because it gave us dimensions. On the title page that Williams sent to the original publisher, he offers us several possible titles for the play: “Dismembering the Nemesis” , “The Descent of Orpheus”, “Memories of the Orchard”, “The Fugitive”, and Country Wild .



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