In the minds of many, Nebraska is part of the U.S. heartland, aka The Midwest. And Kansas-born William Inge has become known as “The Playwright of the Midwest.” So it seems fitting and proper that his Come Back Little Sheba should appear in Omaha. SNAP Productions reveals it in its tight, little venue. An appropriate choice; the confined space enclosing the principal characters bears on how they exist.
This performance owes much of its strong emotional impact due to Sally Neumann Scamfer’s interpretation of the principal role of Lola, a lonely, homebound woman (read “housewife”) of a generation called “middle-aged.” Back in the 1950s such people were often considered over the hill. This could make the play a period piece, but it has permanent resonance, as it has had since the debut more than 60 years ago. A lifetime, you could say.
With great insight and skill, Inge explores the repressed souls of Lola and her husband Doc. The Delaney’s rarely use those names with each other. Most often, tellingly, she calls him “Daddy” while he speaks to her as “Baby.” All four names carry symbolic meanings. “Lola” may seem exotic and “Doc” may seem wise, for example, contradicting what these people really are. And, initially, who they are is not clear to themselves. In time, revelations appear. So do glimmers of hope for the future.
Director M. Michele Phillips wants to focus on alcoholism as a principal theme. Such an idea dovetails with SNAP’s mission: “…to promote understanding and acceptance of all members of the community.” Certainly that applies, with or without alcoholism. Addiction does play a role in the story, but more central is the theme of a dysfunctional relationship which Inge has written so perceptively. That comes across thoroughly in Phillips’ conception.
Scamfer effectively makes clear the sad veneer of Lola’s baby-like jollity. But the still-shocking and sorrowful final scenes is where she moves the heart.
The role of Doc has more subtle complexity. Inge posited a man who hides from himself and wants to escape from the place he created for himself, as if still struggling to affirm life rather than endure it. On opening night Michal Simpson seemed to be still working on completely defining the character.
Important, well-developed sub-texts concern Lola and Doc’s boarder, Marie, a college art student who has a sexual connection with campus jock Turk as well as a commitment to a fiancé in another town, well-to-do Bruce. i.e a fresh, presumably prosperous, happy marriage awaits in another town. Inge’s Marie has an inference rather rare for the time in which it was written; she guiltlessly enjoys sex with a man she does not intend to marry. Marie is played by Alexia Childers, avoiding obvious sensuality in favor of innocent sweetness. A good choice. Further, Inge adds a small touch about women’s equality when Lola questions double-standards
Many interpretations over the years since this play emerged suggest that Doc hankers for Marie. That does not come across in this production. Nor need it. Phillips and Simpson give their by-play a more parent/daughter tone and that works fine. Also often cited elsewhere is the idea that Lola flirts with a visiting mailman and a visiting milkman, a good touch from Inge, suggesting that these specific jobs represent life-lines outside Lola’s omnipresent walls. And they imply Lola’s repressed yearnings. Phillips and Scamfer haven’ t chosen that interpretation. It’s not required. The excellent results make that clear.
SNAP’s re-visit to this well-made play gives a good reason to come back to it again.
Come Back Little Sheba continues through March 30 at 3225 California Street, Omaha. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m. Sun. Mar. 16, 23: 6 p.m. Mar.30: 2 p.m. Tickets: $10-$15. More info: http://www.snapproductions.com/archive_shows/2013/come-back-little-sheba.php