Theatre Review: Come Back, Little Sheba
By Allan Gould
Ric Reid and Corrine Koslo in Come Back, Little Sheba (Image: David Cooper)
A few decades ago, playwright William Inge was regarded with the same sense of respect and admiration as his contemporaries Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. His play, Picnic, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953, but it is rarely performed anymore. Inge was certainly not untalented, but he was always a sentimental playwright who lacked the wit, sharpness and insight of his post-war contemporaries.
The usually-excellent Shaw Festival has presented very fine productions of Inge plays, including Picnic, Bus Stop and now, Come Back, Little Sheba. Having seen all three productions, although I admire the acting and presentation of each, I have come to the conclusion that Inge now seems soap opera-ish, mediocre and even silly.
Inge was certainly capable of the occasionally symbolic or memorable line: “We never really know what people are like,” one character says.
Another character says, “Lilacs — they last so short a time; in a week, they’ll be gone.” So too with Sheba, the much-loved runaway dog of Doc Delaney and his wife Lola, helping to create one of the stupidest titles in theatre history.
It almost hurts to mock this play, because the performances are so strong: Ric Reid is superb as Doc, the alcoholic failed-doctor-turned-chiropractor, and Corrine Koslo is nearly as good as his wife, Lola. When Doc falls off the wagon in a later scene and lashes out against his dull, depressed, overweight and childless Lola, his words are like knives in our ears — yet we hear sharper and more savage language in today’s best television shows.
Most critics went wild over this Shaw Fest production, and understandably so: the set is stunning, the acting first-rate. As always, Jackie Maxwell’s direction is top-notch.
But even the finest performances, direction and set cannot hide the fact that Inge cannot hold a candle to his theatrical betters. This is a silly, petty, forgettable play — and, dangerously, it is considered one of William Inge’s best. Sad, sad, sad.
Come Back, Little Sheba, Shaw Festival, Royal George Theatre, 85 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 905-468-2172. Now - Oct. 19.