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Orpheus Descending


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AT: Battle of Angels A: Tennessee Williams Pf: 1940, Boston (as Battle of Angels); rev. 1957, New York (as Orpheus Descending) Pb: 1945; rev. 1958, 1976 G: Drama in 3 acts S: Dry goods store, small Southern town, c.1940 C: 10m, 9fThe Orpheus figure is a 30-year-old blues guitarist Val Xavier, who ‘descends’ penniless on a small Southern town and is taken in by Lady Torrance, the proprietress of a local store, whose elderly husband Jabe is dying of cancer. While Val offers Lady release from her loveless marriage, other women show interest in the handsome newcomer, including the town's richest and most promiscuous woman, now married to Lady's former lover, David Cutrere, who jilted Lady. When Vee Talbot, the neurotic sex-starved wife of the Sheriff, is treated with kindness by Val, the Sheriff accuses him of adultery and orders him to leave the town or face a lynch mob. Lady discovers that her husband Jabe had been one of those who had murdered her father for serving blacks in his wine garden, and is delighted to discover that she is carrying Val's baby. When Jabe threatens Val with a gun, Lady interposes herself and gets shot. Jabe accuses Val of the murder, and Val is led away to his death by the mob.

AT: Battle of Angels A: Tennessee Williams Pf: 1940, Boston (as Battle of Angels); rev. 1957, New York (as Orpheus Descending) Pb: 1945; rev. 1958, 1976 G: Drama in 3 acts S: Dry goods store, small Southern town, c.1940 C: 10m, 9f

Although Williams's favourite play, this work never achieved success, neither on stage nor as a film (The Fugitive Kind, 1960). In its original version Battle of Angels, Williams's first professional production in 1940, it was booed off the stage. Its characteristic format of the younger man whose youth is slipping away, and the dominant, sex-hungry older woman, parades the same kind of intriguing characters familiar from Sweet Bird of Youth.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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