by William Inge Directed by Jackie Maxwell
"If you can’t forget the past, you stay in it and never get out."
American playwright William Inge has been called the playwright who dramatized the “plain, sometimes desperate lives” in the heartland of America. Director and critic Harold Clurman called Inge “our dramatist of the ordinary ... His writing is bare but suggestive. At times it touches the rim of poetry, and the right actors can transport it into that realm.” He had a string of Broadway hits through the 1950s including Come Back, Little Sheba (1950), Picnic (1953), Bus Stop (1955) and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1957). Picnic won a Pulitzer Prize and his first screenplay, Splendor in the Grass, won him an Oscar. Then why isn’t Inge’s name and work as recognized and celebrated as that of his contemporaries Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams? It seems that his plays went out of fashion for a time—his quiet studies of Midwestern disillusionment seen as quaint or somehow too tidy, too quiet. But in recent years, it seems his work is being re-discovered for their delicate portraits of ordinary people—the Shaw Festival has produced both Picnic and Bus Stop—and in 2012 presented this play which launched his career.
The play looks at the lives of Doc and Lola, a couple married for twenty years, living in a cluttered house in a semi-respectable neighborhood in an unnamed Midwestern city. Lola can’t stop thinking about, dreaming about, and talking to anyone who will listen about her missing dog, Sheba. She enters the play having woken up from a dream about it, and her patient husband answers all of her questions about the dog—again. Yes, she was cute. Yes, he remembers her fluffy white coat. But maybe Sheba just should never have grown old. That she’ll now be a puppy to them forever. Once Doc leaves for work, and Marie, their pretty young boarder, has left for school, Lola is alone again—so she seeks out the neighbor to talk about Sheba, but she has no time to talk. “You should get busy and forget her. You should get busy, Mrs. Delaney.”
What Lola does busy herself with is the love life of their young boarder, Marie. She becomes the focus for both Lola and Doc as she seems to be able live the life of freedom they could not. Lola recounts one night how she and Doc met while they were still in high school: she was the “it” girl who, out of all of her suitors, chose the shy Doc. When she got pregnant, they married and Doc’s plans to become a doctor were cut short. Marie’s relationship with the bold athlete Turk, intrigue and disturb them both. She explains to Lola that her sensible boyfriend back home knows about Turk, but both have agreed that neither need to be lonely while they’re apart. Doc and Lola are shocked by this and it makes them reflect on their own past, their own relationship and the disappointments and compromises they had to make, leading to a heartbreaking but inevitable confrontation of both their past and their future.
What is so compelling about this play is not the action or the story necessarily, but the characters and Inge’s sensitive and complex portraits of people living in small towns, struggling perhaps but not without hope. Directed by Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell, the production features Corrine Koslo as Lola and Ric Reid as Doc.
Come Back, Little Sheba
by Henrik Ibsen, in a new version by Richard EyreDirected by Martha Henry
"These things come over me, just like that, suddenly. And I can’t hold back."
Hedda has returned home after her honeymoon with George Tesman—the man no one expected the wild daughter of General Gabler to marry. What’s clear is that marriage has not tamed her in any way—she’s as spiteful, as funny and as bored as ever. And being a nice married lady at home will not satisfy her. When Thea, her old high school rival (Hedda insists they were friends, even while pulling her hair) confesses she’s been working with Eilert Lövborg on a new book, Hedda can’t believe it. The man she once shared secrets with, toyed with, and maybe even loved has apparently sobered up and written a brilliant book that could win him the job her husband had been counting on. Jealous of Thea’s influence over him, she provokes Lövborg to get drunk and go to a party. When Tesman returns home from the party with the manuscript of Lövborg 's great work, Hedda cannot resist. And when her old friend Judge Brack reveals what he knows of her part in this scheme, she is trapped and makes the ultimate escape.
Hedda Gabler is a play and a character that has inspired endless debate and commentary, as well as award-winning performances. Oscar Wilde said about watching the play, “I felt pity and terror, as though the play had been Greek.” Playwright John Osborne (The Entertainer, Look Back in Anger) wrote an adaptation of the play and said of the title character, “Her tragedy, if it can be called one, is that of being born bored and that is what is fascinating about her in the annals of dramatic literature.” And Shaw said of the play, “The tragedy of a Hedda in real life is not that she commits suicide but that she continues to live! There is not one of Ibsen’s characters who is not, in the old phrase, the temple of the Holy Ghost, and who does not move you at moments by the sense of that mystery.”
The role of Hedda Gabler has been called “the female Hamlet” in terms of its scope and depth and has attracted major actresses throughout history including Eleonora Duse, Ingrid Bergman, Diana Rigg, Isabelle Huppert, Kate Burton, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Annette Bening, Judy Davis and Cate Blanchett. Charles Isherwood in the New York Times said of this character and her enduring legacy, “Hedda Gabler is one of the eternal fascinators of the world stage. Since she sprang from the imagination of the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1890, this cold-hearted anti-heroine has maintained a tight grip on the attention of audiences across the globe, outstripping all the many other complicated women in Ibsen’s oeuvre.”
The Shaw Festival's 2012 version of Hedda Gabler—chosen by director Martha Henry from a great stack of possibilities—is by British theatre and film director Richard Eyre. It was first performed at the Almeida Theatre in London in 2005 and Michael Billington, theatre critic for The Guardian, wrote of the production, “What we get is not a po-faced piece about female victimization but a savage comedy about a woman with an endless capacity for ironic contempt.” The Shaw Festival production, directed by Martha Henry, features Moya O’Connell as Hedda, Gray Powell as Lövborg, Patrick McManus as her husband Tesman, Claire Jullien as Thea and Jim Mezon as Judge Brack.