By William Inge; Directed by Jack Cummings III
Produced by Transport Group
Off Broadway, Play Revivals
Runs through 4.23.17
The Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street
by Linda Buchwald on 4.5.17
Heather Mac Rare in Come Back, Little Sheba. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
BOTTOM LINE: Jack Cummings III makes a strong case for William Inge's importance with productions of Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba in rep.
William Inge's first play Come Back, Little Sheba premiered in 1950. Picnic followed in 1953. Some things have changed since then (though not enough)—premarital sex, a big deal to characters in both plays, is not as shocking as it once was. But as long as people experience emotions of loneliness and regret, these dramas will still be relevant, as Transport Group's William Inge in Rep proves.
By staging the two works this way, Jack Cummings III brings out the similarities in their dealings with losing innocence and fading beauty. In Come Back, Little Sheba, these themes are embodied in Lola (Heather Mac Rae) and Marie (Hannah Elless). Lola was once a beauty, but her looks have faded, and she stays home all day while her husband Doc (Joseph Kolinski), a recovering alcoholic, works as a chiropractor. They had to marry when she became pregnant, but she lost the baby, and couldn't have kids after that. Now she lives vicariously through her boarder Marie, an art student who sketches (and does other things with) athlete Turk (David T. Patterson), even though she is engaged to someone else.
In Picnic, Mac Rae plays a similar character—Mrs. Potts, who lives with her mother and likes to stare at young men. This time, Elless plays smart and tomboyish Millie, whose older sister Madge (Ginna Le Vine) is known for her beauty. They are surrounded by women—their mother Flo (Michele Pawk), and the schoolteacher Rosemary (Emily Skinner), who is desperate to marry. Flo hopes her daughter will marry Alan (Rowan Vickers) and make better decisions than she did, but this is threatened by the arrival of Alan's old friend Hal (Patterson).
Some refer to Inge's plays as dated, but I've never found that. The symbolism and parallels between the older and younger characters can be a little heavy-handed, but there is so much truth that still resonates. Cummings has placed both plays in an intimate setting, which makes the sadness even more palpable.
In Come Back, Little Sheba, audience members sit around the realistic furniture of Dane Laffrey's set. When Lola desperately tries to keep in her house the service men (John Cariani) who bring the mail or milk, we feel just as uncomfortable and sorry for her as the men do. These scenes are made all the more effective by Mac Rae, who is absolutely heartbreaking. And in one explosive scene (which I won't give away), we feel like we might be in danger. Picnic has a more abstract set—just some chairs—but feels no less voyeuristic.
The downside to being so close to the action is that it makes the weaker performances all the more noticeable. Elless is much too over-the-top for such a small venue and speaks with an old-timey affectation that nobody else uses. Patterson, with his muscular build, certainly looks the part of Hal, but he doesn't have enough darkness. He fares better as the friendly jock Turk. But for the most part, the actors hit the right notes; even if this is not the most perfectly cast ensemble, each play is still worth seeing. I recommend seeing them both on the same day if you can.
(Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba play at the Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street, through April 23, 2017. The running time of each play is 2 hours and 15 minutes (Picnic has two intermissions; Come Back, Little Sheba has one). Performances are Tuesdays at 7:30; Wednesdays at 2; Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 (April 13 and 14 at 8); and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 and 8 (Sun April 16 at 3 and 8). You can see both shows on Saturdays and Sundays; for specific show schedule see transportgroup.org. Tickets are $65 ($75 reserved seating), $120 for both plays, and are available by calling 866-811-4111 or at transportgroup.org.)
Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba are by William Inge. Directed by Jack Cummings III. Set Design is by Dane Laffrey. Lighting Design is by R. Lee Kennedy. Costume Design is by Asta Bennie Hostetter. Sound Design is by Miles Polaski. Original Music is by Michael John LaChiusa. Fight Director is Dan O'Driscoll. Production Stage Manager is Ben Anderson. Assistant Stage Manager is Brittany Corbett.
The cast of Picnic is Heather Mac Rae, David T. Patterson, Hannah Elless, Stephen Mir, Ginna Le Vine, Michele Pawk, Emily Skinner, Rowan Vickers, Jennifer Piech, Krystal Rowley, and John Cariani.
The cast of Come Back, Little Sheba is Hannah Elless, Joseph Kolinski, Heather Mac Rae, David T. Patterson, John Cariani, Jennifer Piech, Rowan Vickers, Jay Russell, and David Greenspan.