In 1957 Orpheus Descending ran for sixty-eight performances in New York City; it was also produced in 1959 in London and Paris, and had an off-Broadway production in 1959. Critical response, however, was often harsh, and many considered the play to be a failure. Critics were ready to acknowledge the excellence of the poetic language and the touches of humor, but there were complaints about what was seen as a badly constructed plot, and the fact that Williams appeared to be repeating themes he had explored in earlier plays.
Henry Hewes argued in Saturday Review that the many revisions Williams had made to Battle of Angels, the play which in much revised form became Orpheus Descending, resulted in unnecessary complications to a simple tragedy, which made the action seem chaotic. Hewes did have praise for the occasions "when this play glows with Williams's magnificent awareness of the battle between the forces of life and death," and for the excellence of the language. Yet the play
runs into trouble when it attempts to fly its poetry through a conventional stage atmosphere thick with gossiping old ladies, thefts from the cash register, and Saroyanesque comedy and pathos. The action becomes casual and accidental, a happy ending just as possible as the sad one.
When the play was revived two years later in New York at the Gramercy Arts Theater, Judith Crist in the New York...
(The entire section is 574 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Orpheus Descending Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!