Orpheus Descends Upon Los Angeles

Crosby, Mason and Harold in Orpheus Descending
Crosby, Mason and Harold in Orpheus Descending

When celebrities start doing theater in Los Angeles, you can bet it’s a labor of love.  And that’s absolutely true of the rarely produced Tennessee Williams play Orpheus Descending taking place at Theater/Theater until February 21st.  Starring Gale Harold (Queer as Folk), Denise Crosby (Star Trek TNG), and cover girl-turned-actress Claudia Mason (Vogue, Elle, W, Cosmopolitan), the play is Tennessee Williams’ take on Orpheus and Eurydice as set in the South, the perfect American equivalent for emotional repression and alienation.  It was his ultimate ode to his youth and took him a laborious 17 years to complete to his satisfaction.

The production itself was also a carefully constructed labor, born out of a collective of artists with director Lou Pepe leading the way.  I had the opportunity to speak with Claudia Mason, who takes on the role of the Greek Chorus as the outsider Carol Cutrere, about the process of bringing this play to life.  There was a great deal of artistic luxury with role playing to fill in the subtexts and events that directly affect what takes place on stage.  It was that intense commitment to exploration that Claudia shared as her favorite part of the rehearsal process.

Orpheus Descending opened last week to mixed reviews.  The play is a snapshot in time and very weighty in theme. In a time when so many people are still struggling in the hard hit Los Angeles economy, it’s not the kind of escapism many are seeking.  But, from what I can gather, watching Denise Crosby run the gamut of emotional range from one end of the spectrum to the other with a dizzying ease is worth the price of admission.  It’s the value of any celebrity driven theater – getting to see these people who are at the top of their game work just a few feet away from you.  Even if it isn’t award winning, it’s still incredible to witness.  If you go with that perspective, you won’t leave disappointed.

Orpheus Descending runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, January 15 through February 21.  General admission is $25.  Theatre/Theater is located at 5041 W Pico Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90019 (two blocks west of La Brea, ample street parking available),  For reservations and information, call (800) 838-3006 or go to  www.BrownPaperTickets.com/event/92508 .

15 thoughts on “Orpheus Descends Upon Los Angeles”

  1. What “mixed reviews”? I’ve found only two review so far: Steven Stanley at StageSceneLA, who wrote an unqualified rave, and a mixed review (some of which also raved) by a blogger who reviews under a pseudonym: Keisha7. The latter is a prolific author of Queer as Folk fanfiction online, and she only ran Gale Harold down; I wondered if she has some leftover ax to grind from his five years on Queer As Folk. Moreover, I’ve read informal accounts online of their experience by several people, and although not all of them were thrilled with Williams’s play itself (some simply went for the actors, and they found it too intense) they uniformly thought it a stunning production. All were thrilled by Gale Harold, too, and Stanley in his review said Harold’s was a “masterful” and “magnetic” performance as different from Brian Kinney as night is from day. So I am a bit suspicious of the pseudonymous fanfic writer and her little review.

  2. I really enjoyed the challenge of playing Val, with my guitar and snakeskin jacket, when I took acting classes. Have never seen it in professional production. I should go and see how it’s done.

  3. I was lucky enough to be in LA for opening night and was seated in the second row. While I was not as familiar with Tennessee Williams’ plays as much as I was the actors including Harold, I was absolutely blown away by everything (the set, the acting, and the 99-person theater). Harold is every bit the leading man – you can’t help but center your attention on him when he is on set. His vocal performances and guitar playing was a pleasant surprise and he can certainly hold his own. Crosby is the perfect female lead to balance out the strength of Harold. I was slightly less impressed with Mason (I personally just found her accent a little forced) but she was still strong in her role. The supporting cast was especially good throughout the entire performance, with many people playing more than one character. The show is three acts and totals three hours which is a ton of content to memorize.

    For the small price of $25 you DEFINITELY get your money worth. I say run don’t walk!

  4. Did you see the play? If you didn’t, let me assist all who might want to see it. THIS IS INTIMATE THEATER AT ITS FINEST. Try to imagine being within 24 INCHES, a mere 2 FEET from one of the best working actors around, albeit one of the best looking actor in the business, GALE HAROLD. All the actors in this play are there to work for you but the fact that HE is there to work for you brings you close to hyperventilation! GALE HAROLD (and all the characters he has played) is right there in front of you to show you what he can do. Let him. So you have to work for him and watch this play. You have to slow your heart from over-beating because you are so close to someone you have admired for awhile now. No matter what he does, Brian Kinney resided there. “Always has, Always will.” And what’s wrong with that? It is wonderful. But there is room for Val and a host of other characters and so many more to come! Aren’t actors incredible for what they can give? You bet they are! Next, you have to open your mind (because this is after all a Tennessee Williams self-admitted struggle of a demon play project). Just watch it. Finally, you have to remember a time when sets were simple, yet effective, when theaters were small, powerful places to spend two or three hours and when actors were genuine and not over-processed celebs with perfumes named after them. This is the LIVE theater experience at its most intimate and finest. If you are up for the experience, see a great endeavor! See Orpheus Descending at Theatre-Theater on Pico. Then go next door to Locals for a drink! Why not?

  5. One thank you Monica… I am from France and thus regrettably I would never see the room(part,play) also thank you for making us live your experience(experiment)… I am a fan completely fan of GALE HAROLD is I have the enjoyment to notice that he has only eulogies…. NORMAL he is the best actor of his(her,its) time(weather) …………. He has such a magnetism as I am sure that we remain stunned in front of him during the show(entertainment)..
    As you are lucky, I would so have to meet in the first row(rank) to admire to support to applaud My Star GALE HAROL
    KISS of France

  6. I live too far away to travel to see it, but another thing that bugged me about Keish7’s review is that she actually sort of apologized for researching the play (she called it “looking up the answers,” as if she were cheating off another student’s paper, and insisted she doesn’t ordinarily do it). Why in the world wouldn’t you try to know a play in the standard repertoire by a major American playwright before attending it? Why wouldn’t you look up the Orpheus myth (and maybe even its other dramatic incarnations) before attending something with Orpheus in the title? The whole thing was odd. Also, she said it had no relationship to her life. Well, it takes place in the deep south in the 50’s, and it works on that level too. If you can’t deal with another time and place, there are an awful lot of plays you had better not attend. But must everything be “Jersey Shore”? Steven Stanley actually talked about the production concept, the music, and the fact that the actors all turn into little Foley artists and create the sound effects (like howling dogs, etc.). He described the way the show starts with masked performers, and their masks are replace by Uncle Pleasant with items of clothing from the rack in the drygoods store. That sounded fascinating, since it bridges visually the divide between the Greek myth and the modern setting. That’s a real critic, and he LOVED this show.

  7. I would like to say that I had the absolute pleasure of attending opening night. I mainly went to see Gale Harold, but got more than I ever imagined I would. It was a thrill to be in his presence for the obvious reasons. But what he and the rest of the cast gave in their performances blew me away. I am familiar with the play but had never seen a live production. I am so glad it was in a setting like this. I have been to many big scale plays in state of the art theaters, but none of them enthralled me as much as being before these hard working actors in such a humble setting. I appreciated so much more what goes into making a story believable. And fancy sets has nothing to do with it. Gale Harold was even more magnetic than I thought he would be, if that’s possible. He commands your attention from the second he walks on stage but everyone else more than holds their own. It’s a wonderful ensemble. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. In fact, I am going back for two more performances before it ends. No one that loves good theater and can get to this play should miss it. Neither should anyone that loves Gale Harold!

  8. An immense thank you for the links and for the photos …………. a Lot of happiness for me ………………. I saw the room(part,play) through your glance and I am very happy to see that the criticisms are good…..
    THANKS TO you
    THANK YOU GALE HAROLD QUE of happiness for me has My Star has the other end of the earth
    GALE You are completed as usual ………… You are a big artist I love you for that ………..
    Kiss for you

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