Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Transport Group's 'Sheba' Shatters!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                    Anyone wondering what growing up in an alcoholic home might have been like need look no further than the Transport Group's rendering of "Come Back, Little Sheba."  William Inge's dialogue retains, as always, the ring of truth, but director Jack Cummings III, and
production designer, Dane Laffrey, have done the bold act of arranging the audience's seats, so that they are in the middle of the action.  Some of them, myself, included, are so near to the action, that when the Delaneys begin going at each other during the climax, I wept for the tragic drama being portrayed, and trembled for my life, feeling as though I were more of a presence in their lives, than their border, Marie.

                                     The Delaneys are memorably played by Heather MacRae as Lola, and Joseph Kolinski as Doc.  Mr. Kolinski is the best Doc I have seen; tense, anxious, clearly white knuckling his recovery all the time, symbolized by that liquor bottle atop the fridge.  Is it half empty, or half full?  Does Doc take an occasional swig of it, now and then?  That is open to interpretation, but the presence of that bottle, and the performance Kolinski gives, reminds one this environment is a pressure cooker that will inevitably explode.  With us, the audience, to witness the tragedy.

                                      Heather MacRae gives a haunting, heartbreaking, performance, as Lola.  Her silent moments, walking almost catatonically across the stage, a blank look that belies such yearning, speaks as much about Lola's loneliness, as Inge's words.   Lola is lonely--no child, a functionary marriage, a family that abandoned her, the loss of a beloved dog, (that's Little Sheba!) with no one to reach out to but service people, and her doing that here speaks more of Lola's loneliness than a renewal of coquettish sexuality.  My heart goes out to Lola.

                                       Marie, given a marvelous, non-calculated portrayal, by Hannah Elless, is both the child the Delaneys lost, and the promise they once had of a good future.  Is Marie promiscuous?  Again, it depends on interpretation.  Mine is she is not, but I am coming at this from an altogether different time than the one being witnessed.

                                        Marie and Lola may be counterparts.  They may even be ahead of their time. Lola asks Doc if women can be naked, why can't men?  That is a foreshadowing of the future audiences of today know is to come, and, from that perspective, Lola can be admired for saying it.
But by the standards of the play's time, ('Sheba' was first produced in 1950.) such ideas were verboten.

                                          Same with Marie.  Lola may see herself in Marie, but what the girl has that she does not see, but the audience does, is pragmatism.  Marie carries on with the handsome Turk, but she can clearly see he may be good for one thing, but is on a path to nowhere.  Whereas her suitor, Bruce, is from a good, stable (even wealthy) family, and can provide her with all the things a pragmatic Fifties girl wants--a home, children, and security.  Lola still displays a combination of denial or naivete that makes her less aware than Marie, putting her in the situation she is in.  No way will Marie end up like Lola.

                                         Which makes the way she treats the Delaneys--with tenderness--both touching and tragic.  As a boarder, she passes through their lives, so she is not really aware of what is going on.  She cannot be.  Marie is like the human representation of that bottle, who, when she violates Doc's idealized illusions, sets off that time bomb.

                                           The things people can say to hurt each other, the physical abuse potential Lola faces, and probably has faced before, reaches its unbearable point.  But here, it is William Inge's turn to guide one through it all.  By clearly showing the Delaneys to be victims of their times, and Marie pointing towards a future, where, say, her children's generation may not judged so harshly, the play offers insight into that time.  And while it may end on a seeming note of hope, I get the impression that what we just saw is part of a revolving cycle in the Delaney household, that will be played out, time and again. In so doing, Inge is criticizing the times that made situations like the Delaneys all too common.

                                            My heart goes out for Lola, and for Doc, too, thanks to each actor's splendid, carefully thought out, portrayal.  Special notice to Jennifer Piech, as a character who often goes unnoticed, Mrs. Coffman.  Not here.  She embodies the kind of almost clandestine female communal support that had to exist before there were shelters for battered women, and in those pre- Roe vs. Wade days.

                                            The quartet is the showpiece.  But even the minor players ring true.

                                             One last thing.  This play has one of my favorite lines.  It is when Lola remarks to Doc, regarding, Marie, "You act as though every young girl was Jennifer Jones in 'The Song Of Bernadette.' "  I always get a kick out of that line, having been raised Catholic, and 'Bernadettte' being one of my favorite movies, but I can tell you, from personal experience, trying to live up to such a thing is impossible.  Bernadette was Bernadette because of who she was. She was wired for sainthood from the start.  Not all of us are.

                                               I've had more success, darlings, as Jennifer Jones, when she played Pearl Chavez!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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