William Inge has been dubbed “the Playwright of the Midwest”. During the 1950’s he wrote four Broadway hits, all made into major films, that convincingly portrayed the joys and frustrations of America’s heartland, not to mention their peculiar small-town mentalities. COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA, was the first of these, which shot Inge to the top of his profession. The works are not revived as frequently as Miller or Williams, but a viewing of the plays reveals that the writing is heartfelt, with rich characters and insightful themes.
SHEBA is the direct result of Inge’s alcoholism and his subsequent membership in Alcoholic’s Anonymous. Much of the first act details the prayers, dreams and inner workings of the organization. It tells the story of Doc and Lola, a Midwestern small town couple suffering from acute disappointment. Years before, he abandoned a promising medical career to marry a pregnant Lola, who then lost the baby. He now struggles as a chiropractor. Lola, still treasuring the memories of being the most beautiful and popular high school girl, has now grown slovenly. Both are sexually frustrated and gaze longingly at the attractive and lusty college students who inhabit their cramped little house. Doc has been sober for a year, but every time the kitchen pantry (wisely placed upstage center) is opened, we see a bottle, a symbol of Doc’s continual struggle and the danger of relapse. Little Sheba, by the way, is Lola’s lost dog, who never returns.
Inge’s writing is so perceptive, honest and frank, that audience members who have experienced alcoholism in themselves or their family members will be devastatingly reminded of the encounters. For others, it will be a primer into the experience.
The Actor’s Net of Bucks County, now in their 16th season, offers actors the chance to play great roles. Past productions, excellent ones, include KING LEAR and CANDIDA, and under leadership of Joe and Cheryl Doyle, have consistently offered high quality performances. Aside from Inge, authors this season, include Hellman, Shaw, and Shakespeare.
This selection is excellent. Director C. James Bradley has laid the groundwork for a clearly staged, effectively designed production. Especially noticeable are the well-cast supporting roles, all of whom seem to have stepped out of 1950’s Kansas. There’s Dennis McGuire, as a postman who is also a member of AA, Giz Coughlin as a nosy by sympathetic neighbor, and Lance Amici as a bodybuilding milkman. Alexa Gutter, Ethan Daniel Levy, and Michael Culnan as the young people, bring the proper youthful self-absorption that drives the plot to its bittersweet ending. Marco Newton is the strong AA sponsor who comes to the rescue.
The middle aged Doc and Lola are well handled by Brian Jason Kelly, and Tami Feist. Kelly convincingly battles his primal instincts, as he discovers that his teenage boarder is not the clean-cut cutie he thought she was. Feist is at her best dealing with the loneliness of a childless Mid-western housewife, and brings unexpected smiles and humor to the role. If the production is not as deeply moving as it might be, it is because the actors have not completely explored the emotional depths of their greatest scenes. Not to worry, SHEBA has a four-week run, and director Bradley has laid the groundwork so solidly that the deep commitment will certainly occur. Audiences will be rewarded.
COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA
by William Inge
Directed by C. James Bradley
January 20-February 12, 2012
Actors’NET of Bucks County
635 Delmorr Ave.
Morrisville, PA 19067