Four Lessons from Orpheus Descending

Last Friday I had the pleasure of attending Orpheus Descending—the opening production in Intiman Theatre’s 2015 Summer Festival, The Hunt is On.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been to the theatre, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect as I made my way over to the 12th Ave Arts building on Capitol Hill. From start to finish, the entire experience was moving, powerful, and thought-provoking. I left the production with my mind racing to make sense of what I’d just seen, and I knew I was hooked.

There’s no better way to unpack a piece of good theatre than to write about it, so I wanted to share some of my thoughts and reflections from the evening with you:

  1. The importance of community theatre. This production was developed by and features The Williams Project, Intiman’s first Company-in-Residence. It was held at 12th Ave Arts—a new community space that was built in the heart of Capitol Hill, a location that is rapidly changing in front of our eyes. The combination of a small company (eight actors in total) and the intimate setting of the 12th Ave Arts main stage created the perfect context to allow me to fully dive into the witty, intense, and emotionally complex world of Tennessee Williams. I can safely say that if I had experienced the production in a different setting, I would have felt more disconnected and would have had a harder time seeing myself reflected in the story told around me.
  2. How a diverse cast can enhance your theatre experience. The diversity of the cast added a critical and important layer to the production. Race and gender was fluid throughout the play, with characters frequently changing roles and challenging you to move past your initial perceptions. It allowed the characters to shine based on their acting ability and talent, rather than boxing them into pre-ordained roles based on race and gender. It helped that the production boasted a rock-star cast, led by an incredibly strong leading actress, Kemiyondo Coutinho, who had you laughing in one moment, crying the next, and then critically analyzing your existence.
  3. The role a set can play in defining how you view the production. One of my favorite aspects of the evening was that the audience was invited to switch seats in between acts to allow people to experience the play from another point of view. There were two intermissions, which gave people the opportunity to view the play from three different seats if they wished. It was interactive, fun, and at the end, intimate—challenging you to look at the actors, the set, and the way the characters interacted in new and different ways.
  4. How we view “outsiders” and “newcomers,” and what that means for our communities. I won’t share too much on this since I don’t want to give the plot away for those who haven’t seen it. The production follows Val, a mysterious musician who arrives in a small town and falls in love. Throughout the story we see firsthand how we assign value and judgement to people’s lives and the choices they make. It examines how people’s perceptions impact the way we view others and in turn, ourselves. The cast beautifully and poetically break down societal constructions around race, love, and power in a way that’s both haunting and captivating.

I highly recommend you make the time to see this production—I promise you’ll walk away with more than you came in with.

Orpheus Descending will be running until August 2nd. Read more about Pride Foundation’s partnership with Intiman here.

Zachary Pullin is Pride Foundation’s Communications Manager. Email Zachary.


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