Friday, July 11, 2014

Come Back, Little Sheba, Oberlin Summer Theater Festival

(Karen Nelson Moser as Lola and Matthew Wright as Doc)

On one hand, this play by William Inge (who also wrote Bus Stop and Picnic) feels like a melodramatic relic from the 1950s.

But there’s another hand, wielded by director Paul Moser, and that hand paints a compelling portrait of a loving and deeply flawed relationship that was common in the ‘50s, and not all that unusual to find these days.

Lola and Doc have been married a long time, and they’ve each given up a lot so their marriage can stay intact. Doc gave up a career as a full-fledged doctor (he’s now a chiropractor) due to Lola’s pregnancy. The child later died, leaving Lola unable to have any more children, and that has haunted the pair ever since.

Doc sought comfort in the bottle but now, as the play opens, he’s been sober for a year. But there are torrents of passion and need surging under the apparently calm surface, as Lola chats up every young man who enters the house, including the milkman and the postman, trying out her coquettish charms that are long past their expiration date.

Meanwhile, Doc is busy idealizing their young boarder Marie, until she proves herself soiled goods when he finds evidence that she’s been shacking up with her college boy pal Turk. This sends him back to the bottle, setting up an Act Two meltdown that is terrifying to behold.

As Doc, Matthew Wright is nicely compartmentalized early on, hewing to routine and being overly solicitous to his wife and Marie. But when the dam breaks, Wright’s Doc explodes with a wrath that is raw and dark.

Karen Nelson Moser is effortlessly natural as Lola. And although she doesn’t explore a broad range of emotions, her fiercely controlled reactions tell their own kind of tragic story.

They are supported by a strong cast, particularly Annie Winneg as the opportunistically carnal Marie and Colin Wulff as the buff Turk.

This show is one of three during the OSTF rep season, which also features As You Like It and The Secret Garden. All performances are free, but reservations are suggested.

Come Back, Little Sheba
Through August 2, produced by the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival, at Hall Auditorium, 67 N. Main St., Oberlin, 440-775-8169.

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