News & Politics

Tennessee Williams’ ‘Orpheus Descending’


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March 27, 1957, Vol. II, No. 22

Theatre Uptown

By Jerry Tallmer

For the lead piece on this page this week I had intended to write about “Orpheus Descending,” the new Tennessee Williams play which has just opened at the Martin Beck, to the uneasy dissatisfaction of the critics and the roaring acclaim of the common multitude. Two things have prevented me from doing so: lack of space in the current issue and lack of time to hunt up and read “Battle of Angels,” the early Williams work of which “Orpheus’ is a revision.

For the record, and for whatever other value there may be in it, I shall say that my own reactions were, unexpectedly, precisely those noted by Mr. Kerr in the Herald Tribune. A superbly analytical piece of deadline-writing, and I recommend it to you if you missed it. Otherwise, see the show for brilliant high-powered acting by Maureen Stapleton, Lois Smith, and Cliff Robertson, but do not see it if, as I do, you honor Mr. Williams, author of “The Glass Menagerie” and “Streetcar,” as the finest poetic playwright of our generation. “Orpheus” is Mr. Williams at long last discovering Current Events — sheriffs, posses, chain gangs, Willie McGhee, everything — and all but destroying his talent, though not his matchless vitality in the hysteria of the process. I shouldn’t be at all surprised if some of Miss Stapleton’s own excesses on stage, and director Harold Clurman’s generosity in allowing them, might not have their origin in her conscious or unconscious-awareness that only that kind of real bravura could drive “Orpheus” over the top.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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