BWW Reviews: A Noise Within Presents Resonating Version of Inge's COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA
Come Back, Little Sheba/by William Inge/directed by Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott/a Noise Within, Pasadena/through May 17
William Inge's first play about the compromises made in a loveless, middle-aged marriage may be dated, but it still retains a curious sense of sexual tension/lopsided romantic fervor that made it a hit stage play and film in the early 1950s. Come Back, Little Sheba's two main characters Lola and Doc Delaney find themselves frustrated and disappointed by past failures, and rivet our consistent attention and sympathy as played out in a Noise Within's first-rate production, now onstage through May 17, in rep with Tartuffe and Macbeth as part of its 2014 lost & found spring repertory season.
Sheba may be meager on plot, but its atmospheric elements of decadence/false morality are so evocative that when I see it I am instantaneously sucked into the trap all over again. When I was a kid, growing up Catholic, sex outside-of-marriage was taboo and so for me, Lola (Deborah Strang) as voyeur, lurking in dark corners and spying on Marie (Lili Fuller) and Turk (Miles Gaston Villanueva) while they make out strikes a vibrant chord. We yearn for sex when we can't get any, via dirty magazines and films, which we mischievously concealed from our elders. Lola, previous to boarder Marie's escapades, had her daily escape through quick innocent exchanges with a young, alluring milkman....and via "Taboo" a radio serial laden with sexy passionate voices and native drums. It's no help to Lola that Doc is a recovering alcoholic with a prudish moral code. He was hard to live with when he drank...and he's no fun sober either, dull and inattentive to her needs. When Inge has them move on together at play's end, we pause and ask "why?" Well, the fact is each is a misfit in his (her) own way, and sad but true, they need one another. Where could they go? It's too late to start over. And... this was the 50s where divorce was less common, particularly among the lower middle-class who did not have the financial means to go it alone.
A Noise Within's ensemble is first-rate with stellar performances and meticulous direction from Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez- Elliott. There's a much more realistic slant here in everyone's work. Strang may have less of the lost little girl mannerisms that other actresses have used in playing Lola, but her internal instincts and detailed reactions are priceless, very affecting. Elliott as Doc is outstanding. His transition from stern sobriety to drunken menace is a revelation, and his feet never leave the ground. Fuller is sweet and secure in her choice as Marie. Villanueva plays the physical/sex-driven side of Turk to the hilt and Paul Culos gives Marie's boyfriend Bruce a direct, very contemporary sort of corporate indifference. Jill Hill hits the mark as nosy neighbor Mrs. Coffman, and Mitchell Edmonds does nicely doubling as the postman and Ed Anderson. John Klopping brings great humor and likability to his brief appearances as the milkman. Stephen Gifford's set design really brings out the shabbiness of the Delaney residence with its outside clothes lines overly cluttered with laundry throughout, and Leah Piehl's costumes also add to the tattered, faded ambiance.
It's always nice to revisit a period piece like Come Back, Little Sheba, to witness how mores have changed. Surroundings, circumstances, and attitudes may be different, but emotions remain the same. As far as Lola's little puppy Sheba is concerned, it's symbolic of her attachment to all things past. Time to let go. Too bad she has to compromise and stay with Doc, but Inge left them where they began, incapable of taking drastic steps. Ever the optimist, maybe he foresaw changes, some new-found happiness for Marie and Bruce...?