William Inge’s first Broadway hit COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA, penned in 1950, is indeed a theater classic and yet different from the typical successful play: there is not much of a plot. In fact, you have to wait for almost the middle of the play for the one big crisis to occur. Then things get really interesting.
What leads up to the crisis is the river of deep emotions that is masked by seeming everyday, mundane details of life. You get up in the morning, you have breakfast and greet your spouse, one goes to work, the other stays home and finds things to do to avoid boredom and loneliness, the spouse who left that morning comes home from a job he isn’t crazy about, the other spouse wants to talk, the returning spouse wants to read the paper and on and on it goes. The unexpected pregnancy that brought this couple into wedlock ended with the baby dying, a planned study and career in medicine got put off and we are left with debris of disappointment littered about the place, in every emotional crevice. Something has to give, somewhere. The pain is just too much.
Doc and his wife, Lola, are trying to make ends meet so they take in a boarder. Doc’s alcoholism cost them plenty and put a big hit on his chiropractic practice. He is in recovery, but life’s disappointments and the what-ifs continue to haunt him. He has not come to terms with how his life has turned out. Lola, in spite of her seeming good nature, is trying to mask her own insecurity and disappointment. Into this stifled environment comes a very young lady, the boarder, named Marie, full of plans and life, who boards with the couple, turns Doc’s head, opens up a groundswell of insecurity and dashed hopes in Lola.
The growing tension is what leads to the key action in the play. And I am not going to tell you what that is. You have to go see the play to find that out. It’s worth it.
Melissa Janson, as Lola, has enormous energy and dominates the stage for most of the play. She tries to keep her character upbeat even as she periodically calls out the door for her missing dog, Sheba. Sheba kept Lola company during the day while Doc was out plying his trade. Janson does well with her demanding role, showing us the heartbreaking vulnerability and insecurity of Lola. Doc, played by Jeff Mask, has a solid presence on stage. I did not get the sense of Doc’s being intrigued by the pretty and charming Marie in the first half of the play, which leads up to the emotional crisis of the show. However, Mask rises to the significant challenge of Doc succumbing to many temptations while trying to keep his moral core in the main part of the play. Likewise, Jennifer Marshall as Marie took awhile to connect to the other characters so we could feel the nuances of interplay but connect she did as the show moved along.
All the supporting roles, including that of Bruce (Steven R. Pate) and Turk (Steve Dow) fit in nicely with the tone of the show. Director Denis Stanton did a great job with what can be a very tricky show to direct given the intense, elevating emotional life needed for the main characters.
An interesting aside: playwright William Inge, like his character Doc in this play, felt disappointment about his professional abilities later in life to the point where he committed suicide, thinking he had no more left to offer. Fortunately, Doc does not take that route but does have his own personal hell to navigate first.
COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA
by William Inge
Directed by Denis Stanton
Assistant Director: Kristen Boehmer
>March 2, 3, 9, 10, 11, 16 and 17, 2012
Kent County Theatre Guild
140 E. Roosevelt Avenue