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A CurtainUp Review
Picnic & Come Back Sheba in Rep
I used to be pretty, something like you. I was Beauty Queen of the senior class in high school. My dad was awful strict, though. Once he caught me holding hands with that good-looking Dutch McCoy. Dad sent Dutch home, and wouldn't let me go out after supper for a whole month.—Lola
little sheba
Heather Mac Rae as Lola in Come Back, Little Sheba (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
Born in Independence, Kansas, playwright William Inge had deep roots in the American heartland. This is abundantly clear in his four best known plays: Come Back, Little Sheba, Picnic, Bus Stop and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.

Inspired and encouraged by Tennessee Williams, Inge wrote about repressed sexuality, loneliness and frustration. Like Williams, he had many early successes, and like Williams, his success tapered off in his later years. But unlike Williams, Inge is not considered one of America's finest playwrights, and one of his plays does not open on Broadway just about every season.

If Inge seems outdated and somewhat clumsy to current theatergoers, his plays still have the insights and dramatic tension that make them worth revival. Certainly, Jack Cummings III must have thought so when he decided to direct Come Back, Little Sheba and Picnic in rotating repertory for Transport Group.

Known for its innovative staging, the company does not disappoint. Picnic is staged with a minimal set made up of wooden slats arranged diagonally across the stage to represent the small town houses, with chairs along the diagonal to represent the porches. In Come Back, Little Sheba, these slats are arranged around the stage and become little cubbies in which some audience members sit. The stage itself is transformed into a realistic representation of the living/dining room and kitchen in a home of the 1950s. Michael John LaChiusa's original music echoes the mood and establishes the timeframe.

But there are problems. Presenting Inge in repertory makes it painfully obvious just how similar his plays are. The casting in Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba only serves to reinforce this impression.

David T. Patterson plays Hal, the narcissistic ladies man who disrupts the lives of ladies, young and old, in Picnic and Turk, the narcissistic ladies man who upsets the fragile marriage of DocĀ (Joseph Kolinski) and Lola (Heather Mac Rae) in Come Back Little Sheba, only this time he's still in college.

Hannah Elless is Millie who in Picnic prances and dances across the stage as the plain, younger sister longing for love. In Come Back, Little Sheba she again dances across the stage as Doc and Lola's young boarder Marie, who feeds Lola's romantic fantasies but disappoints Doc when she turns out not to be as pure and virginal as he hoped.

Rowan Vickers is the respectable boyfriend, Alan Seymour, who doesn't get the girl in Picnic and the respectable boyfriend, Bruce, who does get the girl in Come Back, Little Sheba.

Nevertheless there are standouts. Mac Rae captures with searing urgency Lola's desperation and despair. And Kolinski embodies the shame, regret and arrogance that are the fruits of alcoholism.

Emily Skinner is excellent as Rosemary, the old maid schoolteacher who sees her last chance for happiness in Howard, a salesman who is not quite ready to settle down, played with feckless cynicism by John Cariani.

Cariani does triple duty in Come Back, Little Sheba, as the postman, the milkman and the telegraph man. Happily, he makes the most of each role.

If much of Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba is overwrought and obvious, the two plays do give us a picture of middle America back in the 1950s when jobs were still plentiful and boredom was the chief demon of those living in rural America, not immigration and terrorism.

Editor's Note: In 2003, the company explored some of Inge's less well known works with Requiem For William an evenng of sven short plays

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Come Back Little Sheba/Picnic
by William Inge
Directed by Jack Cummings III
Cast: Emily Skinner, Michele Pawk, Heather Mac Rae, Joseph Kolinski, John Cariani, Hannah Elless
Scenic Design: Dane Laffrey
Lighting Design: R. Lee Kennedy
Costume Design: Asta Bennie Hostetter
Sound Design: Miles Polaski
Original Music: Michael John LaChiusa
Running Time: Picnic, 2 hours 20 minutes with 2 intermissions, Come Back, Little Sheba 2 hours 15 minutes with 1 intermission
Transport Group at the Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street
From 2/23/17; opening 3/26/17; closing 4/16/17
Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday at 7:30pm with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. See website for performance schedule
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 25, 2017

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