With no fear of hyperbole, it’s safe to say the world of community theater doesn’t deserve an actress as good as Barbara King.
In Tennessee Williams “Orpheus Descending,” now occupying Las Vegas Little Theatre’s mainstage, she plays an ordinary, middle-aged Italian immigrant starved for some kind of beauty. King communicates how much this deprivation has cost her. There’s a weariness, an ache, in her actions.
When she finds a source of happiness, everything about King lightens up. She radiates the joy of purpose and walks with a young woman’s step. She doesn’t need dialogue to convey meaning; the way she carries herself at different stages in her character’s life tells us all we need to know.
Luckily, there’s more to director Walter Niejadlik’s intriguing production than a star turn.
Williams’ infrequently performed drama (playfully based on the Orpheus/Eurydice legends from Greek mythology) gives us a small Southern town rife with gossip, rednecks and the sort of sheriffs that tell troublemakers to get out of town by sunrise. Poor Val Xavier (Benjamin Watts) makes an unfortunate choice when he drifts into town and gets a job at the general store. Lady Torrance (King) is attracted to him and his guitar, but she’s trapped by a tyrannical invalid of a husband (Joe Hammond).
The beauty of the show is, as it should be, in the language. Williams surprises you at the damnedest times with acute observations of human behavior, and Niejadlik and cast seem to “get” the playwright’s greatness.
As “bad girl” Carol Cutrere, Erica Griffin manages just the right amount of sexuality, insanity and soul. Amy Elizabeth Nixon maintains a perfect balance of reality and exaggeration as the ever-gossiping Beulah Binnings. And Hammond’s booming voice and oversized physical presence in the brief role as the invalid gives the drama its danger. You always feel the threat of violence lurking in the air.
Watts expertly projects his drifter’s sensuality. His attitude makes you understand why even the church ladies go gaga over him. He’s likable, and he and King bounce off each other’s rhythms with enjoyable ease. But Watts doesn’t yet have the acting chops to get inside his character’s skin. There’s much more to the role than he’s able to realize.
As a result, the production centers on Lady Torrance’s torment, rather than the clash of two worlds. But when that Lady is a King, it’s ignoble to complain.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.REVIEW
What: “Orpheus Descending”
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays (through Jan. 27)
Where: Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff Drive
Tickets: $19-$22 (362-7996)