Take a deep breath and prepare to be moved. COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA the American classic by William Inge is now onstage in a breathtakingly poignant production that’s just been extended by popular demand. This SHEBA is produced by the Huntington Theatre Company and directed by David Cromer who illuminated another classic “OUR TOWN” a few seasons back, and here works his magic again. He has given us a thing of tender beauty, a slice of life that cuts deep and true, cloaked in the ache of lost youth, dreams spent, time gone by.
The scene opens on a man quietly making breakfast on a morning in a middle American kitchen. The lighting is a marvel– silvery and promising, the way we remember our kitchens as children, the smell of coffee and rolls warming; I was in the audience, instantly longing for those days I can never get back. The man, we learn, is about 40, when 40 looked older than it does now, or at least this man does, so worn down by life is he. Before the night is over, Derek Hasenstab as Doc will take us to a painful place where actors fear to tread, in a raw and remarkable performance.
A young female boarder, fresh and beautiful, named Marie (Marie Polizzano) enters, her energy setting up a ripple that will become a tsunami in Act II. Finally Doc’s wife Lola (the extraordinary Adrianne Krstansky) comes in; she and her husband gently talk and plan the day to come. The two know about plans; they have been married since they were 18 and as the play unfolds, the disappointments of their life together, the plans made and lost, and what they mean to each other now, will stand out in harsh relief to the parallel scenes of Marie’s young life opening up before them. There’s a lusty young “Turk” (Max Carpenter) in hot pursuit, and a soon-to-be a fiance named Bruce (Nael Nacer). As Marie runs out to meet the day, Doc gently runs his hand over the wisp of a scarf she carelessly leaves behind, but which he clings to like a memory he just can’t let go.
Then, Act II explodes with vicious power. I was shocked and terrified at the eruption of repressed anger, the flood of rage and anguish unleashed on that stage, the destruction in its wake, and the eventual chastening by guilt, sadness, and the need to make the best of what remains.
This delicately nuanced production is perfection; sets, costumes, lighting evocatively detailed, with a miraculous cast including Maureen Keiller as the next door neighbor who hears and sees and helps, the way neighbors once did. Director David Cromer puts everything in motion on a unique L-shaped stage that draws us in, yet leaves enough distance for us to see ourselves in these characters. He finds the fragile balance of tone, the dissonances and resolutions of the sweet-sad melody of our lives, orchestrating Inge’s brilliant play with an immediacy and intimacy that puts us freshly in touch with our deep-seated resolve to hope, against the constant undertow of yearning for what might have been.
COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA speaks past its obvious metaphors–little Sheba will never come home; but this production will bring you to a place as close to home as theater can get. Do Not Miss COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA at the BCA’s Calderwood Pavilion– extended by popular demand through May 2!