Come Back, Little Sheba
Shattered Globe Theatre at Victory Gardens Greenhouse. By William Inge. Dir. David Cromer. With John Judd, Linda Reiter.
At the start of David Cromer’s hauntingly truthful staging of Inge’s 1950 domestic drama, Doc (Judd) simply makes coffee. As a man unobserved, Judd is so natural that it’s almost a letdown when the dialogue begins—the chatter of Doc’s sexually and emotionally frustrated wife Lola (Reiter) and their pretty boarder Marie. But as the actors get past Inge’s top-heavy exposition, it’s clear that this contrast between ineffable interior lives and the daily detritus of their exteriors is precisely the idea, and it’s been executed brilliantly. Under Cromer’s steady, keep-’em-honest hand, the excellent cast forms a tableau of quiet, banal despair: Against the sensual foil of Marie and her jerk-jock beau Turk, the older couple rehashes their lost happiness, then clings to the vestiges of it.
But Inge—with a narrative patience rarely seen in new plays—waits until the breathtaking second act to show his hand. When docile Doc falls off the wagon, Judd erupts into a chilling, frighteningly real violence; Reiter’s terror is palpable. Thanks to Judd’s master turn, it’s only after we witness Doc’s volatility that we realize it was lurking there all along. In this searing portrayal of two people bound by what they’ve shared and all they’ve lost, the designers are equally attentive to detail: from Kevin Hagan’s set and Julia Eberhardt’s props (down to the period-specific corn flakes box) to Lindsey Pate’s costumes and Mike Durst’s lighting. Fittingly, Durst captures that quality of American living-room lamps that seem to throw as much darkness as light.—Novid Parsi