Gale Harold (Queer as Folk), Denise Crosby (Star Trek TNG), and cover girl-turned-actress Claudia Mason (Vogue, Elle, W, Cosmopolitan) head the cast of Tennessee Williams' rarely produced classic, Orpheus Descending. Rounding out the ensemble are stage and screen veterans Robert E. Beckwith, Curtis C., Francesca Casale, John Gleeson Connolly, Kelly Ebsary, Andy Forrest, Sheila Shaw and Geoffrey Wade. Independent filmmaker Lou Pepe (Lost in La Mancha) directs a six-week run, January 15 through February 21, at Theatre/Theater in Los Angeles.
Tennessee Williams' modern version of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is set in the American South of repressed desires. Guitar-playing drifter Val Xavier (Harold) arrives in a small town looking for work and the opportunity to renounce his wild ways, where he meets Lady Torrance (Crosby), a woman with a tragic past who longs for rebirth. Known as one of Williams' darker and more complex plays, Orpheus Descending explores the power of passion, art, and imagination to redeem life and return it to meaning.
"I've always been interested in work that addresses the creative process and the struggle of the artist," says Pepe, best known for his documentary films that deal with similar themes: Lost in La Mancha, The Hamster Factor, and Malkovich's Mail. "Here, the artist is an outsider who has descended into a small Southern town rife with gossip, intolerance, and racism."
Pepe feels a close personal connection to Williams' play, as both an artist and a descendent of Italian immigrants. "The story is haunted by the ghost of Papa Romano," he continues. "Lady's father was an Italian immigrant bootlegger murdered by the KKK for selling liquor to a black man. Romano was also an artist - he played mandolin and sang. His death is one of many instances of violence in the play against anyone who dares to speak out in favor of equality and justice - a responsibility that Williams ascribes to the artist."
The play utilizes Williams' signature selection of secondary characters to the greatest degree, such as outsider/social outcast Carol Cutrere (Mason) and the various small town gossips who comment on the action, making up a Greek Chorus.
Orpheus Descending was a play that Williams labored over for more than seventeen years. The earliest version, callEd Battle of Angels, opened as Williams' first Broadway production in 1940 when he was just 29. It was almost universally condemned by critics. Williams refused to give up, rewriting it five times and finally reshaping it as a modern version of the Greek legend. "Why have I stuck so stubbornly to this play?" Williams wrote. "Well nothing is more precious to anybody than the emotional record of his youth, and you will find the trail of my sleeve-worn heart in this completed play that I now call Orpheus Descending. About 75% of it is new writing, but what is more important, I believe that I have finally managed to say in it what I wanted to say, and I feel that it now has in it a sort of emotional bridge between my early years and my present state of existence as a playwright."
Orpheus Descending opened on Broadway in 1957 with Maureen Stapleton and Cliff Robertson. In 1959, Williams and Meade Roberts turned the script into the film The Fugitive Kind, starring Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, JoAnne Woodward and Maureen Stapleton.
Lou Pepe is an independent filmmaker and screenwriter who divides his time between documentary and fiction projects. He has directed two feature documentaries about film director Terry Gilliam: The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys (1996); and Lost in La Mancha (2002), the first-ever cinema verite chronicle of the collapse of a major motion picture - in this case, Gilliam's short-lived screen adaptation of Don Quixote. Lost in La Mancha received the Evening Standard's Peter Sellers Award for Best Comedy in 2003 and was nominated for a European Film Award for "Best Documentary." Pepe's AMC documentary Malkovich's Mail (2003) furthered his exploration of artistic characters and the creative process by profiling a group of aspiring screenwriters who had solicited John Malkovich's company with bizarre pitch letters. Pepe's fiction work includes the feature film Brothers of the Head, a Gothic fever-dream about Siamese twins who fronted a 1970s punk band (2006, Winner, Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature, Edinburgh Film Festival); and Moments of Doubt (1998), a trilogy of dramatic short films, which won the Best Short Film Award at the 1999 Hamptons International Film Festival.
Gale Harold (Valentine Xavier)'s stage credits include Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer for the Roundabout Theatre Company at the Laura Pels Theatre, Austin Pendelton's Uncle Bob at the Soho Playhouse, Gillian Plowman's Me And My Friend at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, and as a member of A Noise Within Repertory Company. Gale was the lead character, Brian Kinney, on Showtime's remake of the UK show, Queer as Folk. He played Wyatt Earp on Deadwood for HBO. He has also appeared on Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, The Unit, and Law and Order SVU. Film credits include Wake, Particles of Truth, Rhinoceros Eyes, Fathers and Sons, The Unseen, and Falling For Grace. Gale was the associate producer of Scott Walker: 30TH CENTURY MAN, directed by Stephen Kijak.
Denise Crosby (Lady Torrance) appeared on the stage in Last Summer at Bluefish Cove directed by Dorothy Lyman (Ovation nomination); in the title role, as Tamara de Lempicka, in Tamara; in Stops Along The Way, directed by Richard Dreyfuss; and in two critically acclaimed plays directed by legendary acting teacher Larry Moss: Epitaph For George Dillon by John Osborne in New York, and Beggars in the House of Plenty by John Patrick Shanley at Theatre/Theater in Los Angeles. On television, Denise created the role of Lt. Tasha Yar in Star Trek, The Next Generation, later returning to play Tasha's daughter Sela. She co-starred with Fisher Stevens and Jennifer Tilly in the Fox series, Key West. Other TV credits: recurring roles on NYPD Blue, The X Files, Mad Men, and Lois and Clark: The Adventures of Superman; and guest starring in numerous TV series, most recently, Dexter, Crossing Jordan, and Bones. Her films include Pet Sematary, 48 Hours, The Man Who Loved Women, Skin Deep, Jackie Brown, Deep Impact; and Indie films such as the Sundance Film Festival Winner Miracle Mile and The Red Shoe Diaries directed by Zalman King.