Writer William Inge had a penchant for depicting human foibles and frailties that infringe on us all. In his 1950 play and its equally-famous 1952 film, “Come Back,Little Sheba,” Inge focuses on themes of loneliness, lost youth, failed dreams and futures that resonate as loudly today as they did 65 years ago. Granted, social mores have relaxed in our fast-paced, contemporary, revolutionary world, but mental anguish, discouragement, and depression never fades. If anything, they intensify, consuming us.
In Huntington Theatre Company’s intimate production, award-winning director David Cromer, (who brilliantly directed and staged Huntington’s memorable production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” two years ago), enlisted set designer Stephen Dobay, who punctuates every minute, nostalgic detail, enhancing this production’s realism.
Theatergoers seated at a right angle, abutting two sides of the stage, peer downward on the actors, like voyeuristic flies on an open ceiling, catching every nuance, telltale glance, stroke, movement and emotion. At times, we’re voyeurs-within-a-voyeur, when lonely Lola eavesdrops and spies on her vibrant, pretty, sexually active boarder, Marie, and the young woman’s trysts with her musclebound lover, Turk (well-cast Max Carpenter).
We miss nothing, especially us older folks who vividly remember when our kitchen resembled that of Lola and Doc Delaney’s humble, small-town Kansas abode. The stove pilot was lit with a match. Small kitchen tables held a hidden drawer. Double white enamel sinks allowed housewives to wash dishes, then air-dry or drain them on the covered side. Coffee percolators made the best Chase and Sanborn and Maxwell House coffee. Radios blared favorite shows,like “Fibber McGee and Molly,” while commercial jingles and announcements, touted household products, (simulated by Will Lyman’s voice, beamed offstage). And households had dial telephones.
Mike Durst’s dramatic lighting is essential during split-stage scenes, on the compact set, enabling viewers to capture simultaneous action.
Costume designer Sarah Laux’s carefully chosen vintage male suits,white shirts, stetson and fedora hats, and women’s housedresses, aprons, opaque negligees, and dress-up frocks are wonderful reminders of the era’s clothing.
And when Lola carefully covers the dining table with her coveted 20-year-old wedding tablecloth, or polishes her sterling silverware, theatergoers nod, knowingly.
Inge’s plot appears simple - a glance into the lives of lonely Lola, her chiropractor husband, Doc Delaney, and their flirtatious young boarder, Marie (pretty Marie Polizzano).
The play opens slowly - very slowly - with Doc donning an apron, puttering around the kitchen, clearing the table, putting on coffee. His dowdy wife, Lola, is lonely, aimless. Her little dog, Sheba, has been missing for two weeks.
Marie breezes into the kitchen, adding vivacity to this otherwise humble, homely scene. But, ah! Watch closely. Sublimating their lost youth, Lola follows Marie, even into the bathroom while the young woman is showering. Doc prepares to leave, but lingers over Marie’s scarf, touching it, longingly. Lola thrills vicariously through Marie’s sexual escapades,spying on Marie and Turk’s trysts. Adding another thrill to her day, Lola steams open Marie’s telegram.
Lola was pretty. She was queen of the senior prom. She’s acutely aware she’s now dumpy and dowdy. Her dad was overly protective. but not enough. She married Doc at 18. Blessed with a substantial inheritance, Doc, an only child, was studying to be a doctor, when his dreams and ambition were shattered. So was Lola’s youth and beauty. Doc is now a chiropractor and one-year recovering alcoholic.
Their interests differ, too, but an unknown bond binds them together. They need each other.
Adrianne Krstansky as Lola is a marvelous combination of loneliness, sublimation, sadness, and longing. She tugs at our deepest emotions as we watch her desperately invite the postman (Adam Zahler), milkman (Michael Knowlton), busy, no-nonsense neighbor, Mrs. Coffman, (Maureen Keiller) - anybody - into her home. In rat-a-tat chatter, Lola blurts out that Doc’s a recovering alcoholic and mindless small talk.
But Marie breathes life, excitement into their home - perhaps too much. Sensitively portraying Doc, Derek Hasenstab is the picture of serenity and ideal recovering alcoholic, until he explodes in an alcohol-fueled, venomous furor, calling her unsightly names and attacking her with a hatchet.
After Doc is hauled off to City Hospital, Lola makes a desperate telephone call, signaling her hopelessness and nowhere to go. When Doc returns, Lola realizes little Sheba, like her lost youth and beauty, is probably never coming back.
Rounding out this superlative cast are popular Boston star Nael Nacer, portraying Bruce, Marie’s successful fiance from Cincinnati, Christopher Tarjan and Jeremy Browne, as AA volunteers.
Cromer and company have created a powerful masterpiece here. Don’t miss it.
BOX INFO:Two-act, two hour play, written by William Inge, appearing with Huntington Theatre Company, through April 26, at the Roberts Studio Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts (BCA), 527 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Performances:Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2,8 p.m.; Sundays, April 19,26, at 2 p.m.; Tuesdays, Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Wednesdays, at 2,7:30 p.m., April 15, 7:30 p.m.; April 22, 2,7:30 p.m. Check for related events. Tickets start at $25; senior, subscriber, BU Community, 35 years and below, student and military discounts. Visit huntingtontheatre.org, Huntington or BCA Box Office, or call 617-266-0800.