With a recurring role on Law & Order and regular bookings in east-coast regional theaters, Carmen Roman doesn’t turn up in Chicago much these days. But she’s returned for what may be the performance of a lifetime in Tennessee Williams’s tragic swoon Orpheus Descending. Roman plays Lady Torrance, an Italian immigrant stuck in a loveless marriage in a small Mississippi town. When wandering blues musician Valentine Xavier strolls into her general store, she sees her opportunity for spiritual rebirth. In Williams’s blistering third act, when Lady tries to break free of a lifetime of sexual repression and backwater intolerance by making a doomed play for Val’s heart, Roman orchestrates her character’s tumultuous emotions with such force and ingenuity that no one else seems to exist onstage. But like the rest of the cast in Damon Kiely’s staging, she needs the first two acts to find her way to the explosive ending. Perhaps over the next week or so she’ll be able to give that wallop to the rest of the play too. Through 11/6: Thu-Fri 8 PM, Sat 5 and 8:30 PM, Sun 3 PM. American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron, 773-929-1031. $25-$30.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Johnny Knight.