It's amusing to me that my favorite play in the Tennessee Williams Festival wasn't written by Tennessee Williams. "Gift of an Orange," Charlene A. Donaghy's play inspired by Williams' short story, "Gift of an Apple," both captures the spirit of Williams' work and brings something new and wonderful to life.
Set in backwoods Louisiana, the play opens with Oshun (Dayenne C. Bryan Walters), a voodoo woman casting a spell. Powerful, but bearing both physical and spiritual scars, she uses her magic to bind men to her - men who would otherwise never pay her any mind. When the handsome Taurean (Richard Caines) comes by looking for work or food, he falls under her spell (like Persephone, his undoing is a piece of fruit). But as Oshun finds out more about the handsome stranger, now fully ensnared by her, she realizes, perhaps for the first time, that her magic can have terrible and unforeseen consequences, ones she never experienced with her former lovers, including Jake (James Babcock) who shows up to claim his woman.
The ensemble is terrific, though Walters is truly a force of nature. Her Oshun is strong, hard, and broken, and watching her confront what she has done to Taurean is deeply moving. Babcock and Caines are very strong in their roles, and people who enjoy well performed fight choreography will admire the rollicking fight scene between the two of them.
Live music provided by Liz Raposa, Joshua Ziemann, Ukumbwa Sauti, and Pete Hennig provides depth to the production, bringing raucous energy to the fight and dance sequences, and quiet power to the subtle moments.
The thing that sets this production apart for me is the decision to perform the play in the zen garden at Wa, a furniture and design store. The intimate space limits the number of people who can attend the performances, but it provides such intimacy and immediacy to the performance. In addition, the swoosh of the wind through the thick limbs of the maple trees, and the deep resonant notes of the wind chimes that Wa hangs in the garden, added an entire new layer to the production - musical accompaniment by Mother Nature herself.
"Gift of an Orange" is an outstanding production, and an excellent example of the best that this festival has to offer.
"Gift of an Orange"
By Charlene A. Donaghy
Directed by Jackie Davis
Producer: Cliff Odle
Stage Manager: Samantha MacArthur
Set Design and Properties Master: Luke Sutherland
Production Assistant: Tychelle Jackson
Technical Venue Manager: Mark Sternlof
Cast: James Babcock (James), Dayenne C. Bryan Walters (Oshun), Richard Caines (Taurean)
Musicians: Liz Raposa, Joshua Ziemann, Ukumbwa Sauti, Pete Hennig
Original White-Line Woodcut by Bill Evaul