Through October 19
COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA Shaw Festival/Royal George Theatre
By the time William Inge's “Come Back, Little Sheba” finishes, you have solved the mystery of the disappearance of little Sheba.
The dog evaluated the house where she lived and the assumed adults who lived there and ran away.
For years, Lola Delaney (Corrine Koslo) has wandered the neighborhood calling for the dog.
She should have called for her youth, to get another chance to live.
While there are other characters in the play, it boils down to two, the resentful Lola and her resentful husband Doc (Ric Reid), an alcoholic chiropractor.
It's a classic story from when the rules were different, Lola was the best-looking girl in high school and Doc was a college student aiming at med school.
The he got her pregnant and it all fell apart because they had to do what was required back then, they married.
He left college and went to chiropractor school and she became a housewife and the two settled far away from home and her parents, who have nearly disowned Lola, although her mother does , occasionally, talk to her.
The play was first staged in 1950 and it reflects morals and customs of the day, a time when there were a number of homes for “unwed mothers” here in Buffalo to help women escape the stigma of having their babies.
Lola lost hers.
The best lines in the play are the ones never said, only shown by body language and stage business, carefully staged by director Jackie Maxwell.
Doc clearly regrets everything that happened, wishing he could go back and change it all.
So, does Lola who has turned into a slovenly housewife with no friends, making a bad situation even worse.
Doc is a dry drunk, occasionally getting sober and after a while deciding he doesn't need his AA meetings and slipping away from hard-won sobriety.
There is always that tempting quart of whiskey in the kitchen, easily visible and easily accessible.
Doc and Lola don't communicate and his drinking has cost him the then-large amount of money left by his Mom and his ability to attract and hold a practice.
Essentially, they have agreed not to talk about the situation, making it worse.
It's also made worse by their need to turn the living room into a rental room for a student from the university which apparently surrounds the Delaney home.
This year, it's Marie (Julia Course), an art student who is having a flaming affair with the jock Turk (Kevin McGarry).
Doc is torn between lusting after Marie and placing her on a pedestal as woman supreme, far above that of his slovenly, obese, lost wife.
He doesn't approve of Marie hanging around with Turk
One morning when Doc discovers Turk has spent the night with Marie when Bruce is due that afternoon to give her an engagement ring, Doc grabs the whiskey bottle and disappears, not returning for the celebratory dinner with Bruce and the now-engaged Marie.
When he does stagger home, he goes after Lola with an axe and AA friends have to be called in.
They drag him away to the dreaded City Hospital because there is no money for the private clinic.
When Doc returns days later, he's dry but not really sober because none of their problems have been resolved.
Lola tried to go home but isn't allowed to because her father is still angry, all these years later.
They begin yet another period of despair and non-communication with another inevitable binge certain.
Inge understood all of this as a depressed, gay alcoholic, a man who understood how hard it is to attain sobriety and how easy it is to lose.
There are two sides to this Shaw Festival production of “Come Back, Little Sheba.”
It's really well done, with strong performances from Koslo and Reid.
It's just that the story is so depressing it might drive you to drink, two-people whose best hope is death rather than the angry, resentful, uncommunicative lives they lead.
“Sheba” is a hot play right now, with a recent production in the New Phoenix Theatre probably restarting Inge on local stages.
Here, Maxwell has a strong cast, Koslo and Reid, along with neighbor Mrs. Coffman (Sharry Flett), Course and McGarry on an excessively lavish set from Christina Poddubiuk.
“Come Back, Little Sheba” is so much effort on the dark side of life without the redeeming factors George Bernard Shaw might have found.
Well done but utterly, thoroughly depressing.
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