Battle of Angels, recently staged at AllWays Lounge and Theatre, was Tennessee Williams’ first professionally produced play. Although it’s an early work, all of Williams’ strengths are there: the everyday language that somehow rises to poetry, the Gothic South and conflicts that teeter on the edge of melodrama.
The story centers on Myra Torrance (Veronica Russell) and Val Xavier (Eli Grove). Myra runs a store in a small Mississippi town. Stricken with a cancerous tumor, her husband Jabe (Doug Mundy) lies on his deathbed upstairs and bangs on the floor with his cane when he wants anything.
A group of gossips gather in the store (Nicole Gruter, Lilian Claire Dodenhoff, Patricia Raw and Rebecca Rae), and they serve as a sort of chorus. They are the first to notice Val, a stranger who arrives in town wearing a snakeskin jacket. Though the town is hardly a paradise, the snakeskin suggests temptation — judging by the women who act like teens swooning over a rock star.
Vee Talbot (Rebecca Meyers) is a primitive-style painter who renders religious scenes that she receives in visions — a curious touch, since she is going blind. More importantly, her son Sheriff Talbott (Barry Bradford) is the heavy in the tale.
Although all the women are attracted to Val, it’s the reckless, hard-drinking Cassandra Whiteside (Diana Shortez) who makes a play for him. She’s a rich carouser who says the two of them are soulmates and outsiders “of the fugitive kind.” When she gets too forward, however, he slaps her. Val is a drifter, which sounds romantic, but he is lonely and harbors a dark secret that forces him into a nomadic existence.
Val wants a normal life, starting with a job as a salesman in Myra’s store. He’s a stranger and doesn’t know a thing about the business, but eventually she agrees to hire him. These characters are well drawn although unsure of the undercurrent of romance between them. Russell and Grove play the complex growth of their love with delicate honesty.
At the end, the dark secret that’s been haunting Val catches up with him, as does Sheriff Talbott. Death in the form of Jabe hobbles down the stairs on his cane carrying a gun. Val tries to escape and chaos ensues.
Glenn Meche directed a topnotch cast and brought a rarely seen Williams play to life.
Through April 4-6
Battle of Angels
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
AllWays Lounge & Theatre, 2240 St. Claude Ave., (504) 218-5778