When I first read "Orpheus Descending" by Tennessee Williams last year, I knew it was in the running for my Director's Notebook. I fell in love with the language and the discussions of everyday morality. While Williams' dialogue is masterful, I was especially struck by the lyricism of the stage directions, of all things. In all honesty, these are what made me fall in love with this play. "Orpheus Descending" feels complete, in a way that is hard to describe other than to say that I can't think of anything that is missing from this story; from this snapshot; from this world. I am a very visual learner, and this text is visually stimulating throughout.
In terms of new reactions, I've spent most of my time thinking about set design. In my initial interpretation of the play, I believe that the set should provide the tone of the show, perhaps even more than the words or actions. That way, viewers can sense the constant foreboding even as the characters engage in normal activities unrelated to the plot tensions. The way Williams writes, audiences become privy to the inner workings of the mind of the character of Lady (and sometimes Val or Carol) and can observe how anxieties or tensions can remain present even as she conducts herself as if she feels normal. I want this to be reflected in the set, especially since I interpret the writing in a very visual way. I envision a large central staircase above the central entrance to the shop. The apartment where Jabe is slowly dying is partially visible above. The door at the top of the stairs should become a sort of trigger for audiences to begin to worry; a light may come on under it then flick off as foreshadowing of the eventual climax when Jabe flings open the door to shoot Lady. I will have to do some sketches, but in my mind, the staircase is built onto a sort of pillar or pinnacle of black stone, seething with vines and gnarled trees. This can stand in juxtaposition with the relatively austere general store surrounding it; the stairs are meant to evoke a feeling that the audiences have descended the steps to Hell and are awaiting moral judgment along with the rest of the characters. I want the audience to feel unsettled in a way they can't quite place. Maybe I'll play with some angles so that some things are just slightly askew. Let them feel *just* a bit unhinged. Let them squirm in their seats.