Orpheus descends into hell
The action of the play unfolds in the “small town of one of the southern states.” The owner of the universal store, Jayb Torrens, the leader of the local Ku Klux Klan, is brought from the hospital, where after a thorough examination the doctors came to the conclusion that his days were numbered. This living dead man, even on the threshold of the grave, is able to inflict horror on close people, and although he hardly appears on stage, the knock of his stick from above, when he calls Leidi’s wife to bed, is ominously heard throughout the course of the action.
Leydi is much younger than her husband. Twenty years ago, when David Katrir threw her an eighteen-year-old girl, to whom her relatives found a profitable bride, and her father’s cafe together with her father, an Italian who sold alcohol not only to whites, but to blacks, they burned Ku Klux Klan, she, who was left without livelihood, had to agree to a marriage with Torrance – in fact, to sell yourself. She does not suspect one thing: her husband was the leader of a wild gang the night her father died.
The store is located on the first floor of the house where Torrens live, and so the return of Jayb from the hospital is seen by customers who were there at that moment. Among them is the local renegade Carol Katrir, the sister of the former lover Leidi. She essentially lives in the car, in her “little house on wheels”,
She first draws attention to the appearance in the shop Val, who was brought here by Wie Tolbet, the wife of the local sheriff – she heard that Leidy was looking for an assistant in business. “Wild beauty” of a young man, a strange jacket made of snake skin, his heady look stirs the former “activist”, but now an ordinary seeker of adventure. He seems to her almost an envoy of another civilization, but for all her flirting, Val briefly replies that such adventures no longer excite him. Drink without bother, smoke to stupefy, wander God knows where the first counter – all this is good for twenty years of bluntly, and not for a man who turned thirty today.
But on Leydi he reacts quite differently. Returning to the bench for a forgotten guitar, he encounters a woman. The conversation is tied up, there is a feeling of the closeness of souls, they are drawn to each other. Leydi felt that for all these years of existence near Jabe she “froze” herself, suppressed all the living feelings, but now she is gradually thawing, listening to the easy poetic monologue of Val. And he talks about the rare little birds that are all alone in flight (they have no legs at all, these little birds, all life is on their wings, and they sleep in the wind: they will spread wings at night, “). So they live and “never fly to the ground.”
Suddenly, for himself, Leydi begins to confide with a strange stranger, even reveals the veil over his unsuccessful marriage. She agrees to take Val to work. After Val’s departure, she touches the guitar, which the young man still forgot, and for the first time in many years laughs lightly and joyfully.
Val is a poet, his strength in a clear vision of the opposites of the world. For him, life is the struggle of the strong and the weak, evil and good, death and love.
But there are not only strong and weak people. There are those “on which the brand has not been burned out yet.” Val and Leidi belong precisely to this type: no matter how life develops, their soul is free. They inevitably become lovers, and Val settles in a small room adjoining the store. The fact that Val lives here, Jaibu is unknown, and when one day a nurse at the request of the owner of the store helps him to go down early in the morning, staying in Val’s shop is a complete surprise for him. Jabe instantly understands what’s what, and to hurt his wife, blurts out in anger, that he and his friends set fire to her father’s house. Leydi did not even think of that-she’s all stony.
Val has already pampered many in the city. The townsfolk are annoyed that he is friendly with the blacks, he does not disdain to communicate with the renegade Carol Katrir, and Sheriff Tolbet even jealous of his aging wife, whom the young man just sympathizes with: he is spiritually close to this artist, a dreamer, dreaming awake and completely unintelligible husband. The Sheriff orders Val to leave the city in twenty-four hours. Meanwhile, Leydi, burning with love for Val and from hatred for Jaba, is preparing to open a confectioner’s shop. For her, this pastry shop is something like a tribute to her father, she dreams that everything will be here as before in her father’s cafe near the vineyards: music will flow, lovers will make appointments here. She longs for a dying husband to see before his death – the vineyard is again open! Risen from the dead!
But a premonition of triumph over her husband fades before the discovery that she is pregnant. Leydi is beside herself with joy. With a cry: “I conquered you, Death, I’m alive again!” she runs up the stairs, as if forgetting that up there is Jeb. And the one who faded and yellow, overpowering himself, appears on the platform with a revolver in his hand. It seems that he really is Death himself. Leydi rushes to the motionless Val standing in fright and covers him with his body. Clinging to the railing, the old man shoots, and the mortally wounded Leydi falls. The insidious husband throws a revolver at the feet of Leydi and calls for help, shouting that the worker shot his wife and robbed the shop. Val rushes to the door – where Carol’s car is standing: a woman still today, after learning about the sheriff’s warning, offered to take him somewhere far away. Behind the scene you can hear hoarse men’s shouts, shots. Val did not manage to leave. Leydi dies quietly on the floor. This time Death won Life.