Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at 9:38 a.m.
Image courtesy Six Elements Theatre Company
When it came to find a place to stage Six Elements Theatre Company's production of Tennessee Williams's Orpheus Descending, director Jenna Papke searched for the right place to host the show.
She found it at Open Eye Figure Theatre. The tight confines of that stage were perfect for the claustrophobic, trapped vibe of Williams's play.
"It's a wonderful small brick space and it is slightly looming," she says. "When we taped out the rehearsal floor, the scenes with more than six people onstage are about managing foot traffic."
Williams's work -- a reworking of an earlier play of his, Battle of Angels -- centers on Lady and Val, and is set in a southern general store. Val is a drifter who finds himself in the small town, while Lady has been trapped in a loveless marriage for decades.
"A lot of his work has returning themes. This one is about isolation. There is a sort of beauty in these two people who find each other and who are torn apart," Papke says. "There is also a feeling of intense entrapment. I am always drawn to plays where they are emotionally and physically trapped. Why has this unhappy woman stayed? What makes someone stay in a terrible situation? That's what I wanted to explore."
The cast is led by Meredith Larson and Philip Matthews as Lady and Val.
"We did a reading of the play six months before we started rehearsals. They both lit up. They are quite good friends outside of the work that we do and they have this chemistry together on stage," Papke says.
The casting also allows the actors to explore different types of characters. "Meredith does a lot of stage combat, and she tends to get a lot of strong, capable women. Lady is fragile and nervous. Philip is a very good-looking guy, but when he was in college he played a lot of older characters. Here, he is playing this sex object. He's excited that his shirt gets ripped off and all that," Papke says.
The cast features 13 actors -- that's down from 18 in the original script -- which, as noted above, will make for some tight work at Open Eye, even as they have expanded the playing area and built a set with multiple levels.
That company has seven women and six men -- and all of the dialogue of the men taken together doesn't equal that of Lady's. The various townsfolk play a central role in the proceedings. "They are there to create this sense of entrapment; this sense of community and society watching. They troop in and out of this general store and build up this threat of danger," Papke says.
The story -- as the title indicates -- connects to a larger mythology and allows Williams to explore some heady topics along the way. "There is the idea that you have to make your own fate. You have to fight for what you want. If you are too cautious it will catch you up," Papke says.
IF YOU GO:
Friday through January 18
Open Eye Figure Theatre
506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, visit online.