Review: 'Sheba' is beautiful and tender
By Audrey Wells
William Inge's domestic drama, "Come Back Little Sheba," set somewhere in the Midwest in the 1950s, plays curiously well in 2013.
The Celebration Company's delicate production at the Station Theater, directed by Tom Mitchell, had me holding my breath in some quietly beautiful moments when characters are alone on stage.
In its day, the play broke ground with its frank talk of alcoholism as an illness, Alcoholics Anonymous as an aid and matters of sex.
The character of Lola, a lonely woman trapped by social confines, even rejected by her father for having gotten pregnant at 18, but doing her best to keep an even keel, must have been subversive in 1950. She speaks softly but openly.
When she learns from Marie, a college art student boarding at her house, that in life study drawing classes the female models go nude while the male models wear shorts, Lola questions the inequality as if she were an innocent. Other characters are embarrassed by her candid conversation.
The contemporary audience, however, recognizes the daringness of Lola as a seed of feminism pushing through the topsoil.
She's not so innocent after all. No wonder she enjoys her time alone listening to the radio program "Taboo."
The set, designed by Molly Ilten, and props, by Greta Miller, take the audience back in time. The milk in glass bottles delivered daily, the stove that lights with a match, telephone numbers that begin with a word, shirtwaist dresses and real Irish linen when company comes bring the time period to full life.
Traveling back to see the past with contemporary eyes is part of the production's delight. Some of the language entertains us, too: It's swanky and swell.
The human emotions and personal conflicts these characters face, however, are not dated; they are timeless.
The actors playing the younger characters come across in full color. Sarah Heier as Marie, the boarder with boyfriends, is excellent, vivacious and sensitive to everything going on.
She and Maxwell James Tomaszewski, in the role of her boyfriend Turk, are believable and comfortable together. All the supporting actors are clear and able in their roles.
The middle-aged protagonists, Doc, played thoughtfully by Lincoln Machula, and Lola, his tremulous yet courageous wife played empathetically by Deb Richardson, by contrast have a washed-out look. Life has worn them down.
By the time the second act more fully reveals their problems, the audience understands how much these characters have, indeed, been through the wringer. Their dreams might have washed away, but their humanity remains.
In the end, Lola, called "baby" by her husband, proves to be profoundly adult. Richardson's sensitive portrayal, more tentative in the first act than the second, is the centerpiece of the production. She illuminates the Midwestern tone of Inge's play.
Like the sweet poster for the production, designed by Alex Mitchell, showing a small dog with sad eyes lost in a sea of yellow, this production leaves the audience with tender feelings.
Audrey Wells is a freelance writer from Urbana.
If you go
What: The Celebration Company presents William Inge's "Come Back, Little Sheba," directed by Tom Mitchell
When: 8 p.m. today and Sunday; Nov. 13-16; and Nov. 20-23
Where: Station Theatre, 223 N. Broadway Ave., U
Tickets: $15 on Fridays and Saturdays; $10 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays
Reservations: 384-4000; http://www.stationtheatre.com