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A CurtainUp Review
A Loss Of Roses
By Elyse Sommer
I wish I could tell you that Peccadillo and La Femme have rehabilitated Loss of Roses. But though written at a time when Inge's career was well established, it comes off as a novice playwright's too unfocused, heavy-handed dabbling in a number of intriguing ideas but not doing any of them justice.
While I didn't quite buy into the T.A.C.T Company's claim that their 2013 revival of another Inge flop, Natural Affections ( Review) deserved a place alongside his best plays like the Pulitzer Prize winning Picnic or Bus Stop their well staged and acted production was well worth seeing and kept me fully engaged. I also liked the Transport Group's staging of seven obscure Inge one-acters (review ). Consequently , I hoped this revival based on the final published text rather than 23-performance might be even more worth seeing. But as even a cast headed by Joanne Woodward, couldn't save the 1963 movie version, The Stripper, fare any better than the Broadway production even worse, the use of the script as the playwright intended fails to make this anything but an artefact for Inge completists. Unfortunately, Dan Wackerman's direction doesn't help.
True to a time when hiring actors to play peripheral characters posed no economic problems, Wackerman is presenting what is essentially a 3-character story with a cast that's nine strong. This would be fine if the secondary performances were strong enough to make a meaningful impact.
The three pivotal characters occupying Inge's typically dour landscape, a small Kansas town at the height of the Depression are better but not especially memorable: Helen Baird (Deborah Hedwall), her 21-year-old son Kenny (Ben Kahre) and their former neighbor and Kenny for old family friend Lila Green (Jean Lichty).
The big problem is two-fold. First, A Loss of Roses is a poorly edited rehash of an all too familiar Inge dramatic formula: Using an outsider's arrival to kick up the emotional problems of people leading quiet lives of discontent. Secondly, it's a somewhat clunky ode to Inge's mentor Tennessee Williams, starting in Glass Menagerie territory moving into Streetcar Named Desire mode.
Helen Baird, like Amanda Wingfield is a widow forced by hard times and her personal situation to be the head of her household. Like Amanda she tends to be more nagging than nurturing. As Tom Wingfield escapes to the movies, Kenny Baird seeks escape from his unloving and yet over protective mother with drinking and girls his religious mom considers unsuitable. While the Bairds both have jobs to keep them safe if not especially happy and compatible in their home, The tent show with which their former neighbor Lilly had been performer closed, leaving her homeless and without money. Like Blanche DuBois, Lily is mentally fragile with a troubled history. Kenny and Lily's inevitably exploding physical attraction makes for a predictably devastating ending.
Under Wackerman's direction the mother-son tension boils down to some rather uneventful squabbling about Lila's pending arrival and Helen's store bought lemon meringue pie. Lila's shady past made plain by the members of her troupe who briefly join her at the Bairds. Their brief visit should enliven things and establish an aura of a seedy life far different from Helen and Kenny's church-going existence. But none of this is forthcoming from Ricky Powers (Jonathan Stewart), the troupe's grand dame grand dame Mme. Olga St. Valentine (Patricia Hodges) or the foppish Ronny Cavendish (Marty Thomas).
The Kenny-Lila explosion does finally happen in the second act while Helen is off at a revival meeting. But I found myself less caught up in the sexual sizzle than wondering what kind of revival meeting would keep the very proper Helen out all night. Kenny's abrupt 90-degree spin in his relationship with both Lila and his mother, makes for a neat if not totally convincing finale, which leaves Inge's unhappy trio losing a lot more than a bunch of roses.
Harry Feiner has filled the very wide and deep St. Clement's Theater stage with everything needed to support the play's action over the course of a summer month. The Baird's kitchen and living room are down stage, the bedroom is upstage and raised up. An and an area at the side and rear accommodates the street outside and a backdrop projecting a vista of the town is evocatively lit (also by Feiner) during the big bedroom scene.
As if I haven't quibbled enough already, Mr. Wackerman has allowed too much of the action to take place upstage and failed to avoid having the actors moves around this abstract-ish realism from often looking awkward. In fact, at the performance I attended one actor inadvertently exited in the wrong direction, providing this production with a single, much needed light moment.