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May 16, 2014

Reclaiming William Inge

In today's Wall Street Journal drama column I report on revivals of two American shows from the Fifties, William Inge's A Loss of Roses (done by the Peccadillo Theater Company) and Damn Yankees (done by Goodspeed Musicals). Here's an excerpt.

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William Inge's half-remembered plays are finally making a slow but sure comeback. Witness the Peccadillo Theater Company's new Off-Broadway revival of "A Loss of Roses," which broke his four-show winning streak and plunged him into a creative slump that led to his suicide. This is the first time that "A Loss of Roses," now remembered only for having provided Warren Beatty with his lone Broadway role, has been staged in New York since it closed there in 1959 after 25 performances. Judging by the impressive 2013 TACT/The Actors Company Theatre revival of "Natural Affection," which followed "A Loss of Roses" and met with a similarly disastrous fate, I thought it likely that his fifth play would also prove to be better than its reputation. Sure enough, "A Loss of Roses" is a strong and serious piece of work, and Dan Wackerman's understated staging helps reclaim a fine play that should never have slipped from sight.

LOSS%20OF%20ROSES%20PHOTO.jpgUnlike "Natural Affection," which takes place in a Chicago apartment, "A Loss of Roses" is set in what you might call Ingeland, the same sort of nondescript Depression-era Midwestern village in which its author grew up and where "Come Back, Little Sheba," "Picnic," "Bus Stop" and "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" also take place. It's the home of Helen and Kenny (Deborah Hedwall and Ben Kahre), a widowed mother and her 21-year-old son who live together uneventfully but uneasily. Something is bound to blow, and it does so when Lila (Jean Lichty), who left town to become a small-time actor, returns to visit her old friend Helen, thereby arousing in Kenny rumblings of lust that can't help but lead to anguish.

The inevitable crisis is a trifle schematic, but Inge sketches it with his usual quiet intensity, and his sad characters, like the dusty town in which they live, lack nothing in believability. Your heart will ache for them, especially Helen, who can't figure out how to do right by her troubled son and whom Ms. Hedwall plays with simple grace....

"Damn Yankees" isn't a great musical, but it can be great fun when done really well. Goodspeed Musicals has filled the bill with a snappy staging in which Stephen Mark Lukas and Angel Reda are wonderfully well cast as Joe Hardy, who sells his soul in order to become a major-league ballplayer, and Lola, the demonic temptress whose job is to keep him from exercising the escape clause in his deal with the devil (David Beach).

Joe DiPietro ("Memphis") has rewritten the original George Abbott-Douglass Wallop book, turning the once-hapless, now-defunct Washington Senators into the Boston Red Sox, who were having a comparably tough time of it in 1952, the year when "Damn Yankees" is set. The switch is neatly managed...

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted May 16, 2014 11:00 AM

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