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Unread 09-29-2006   #1 (permalink)
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Default Four Plays: Come Back Little Sheba, Picnic, Bus Stop and the Dark at the Top of the Stairs (Black Cat Book)

Four plays by William Inge all published and produced on Broadway in the 1950s. The plays are underbellies of the American dream concerning modestly incomed average Americans facing conflict in a changing social environment, each with a deep dramatic sense of the human spirit riddled softly with a genuinely comedic edge. "Come Back, Little Sheba" is a low-key story of a recovering alcoholic which rises to thunderous and violent drama. "Picnic" follows two Kansas households whose lives are disrupted when a stranger comes to town during a Labor Day weekend. "Bus Stop" concerns an unlikely wedding engagement among a group of stranded passengers in a coffee shop bus stop. Only "Dark At The Top of The Stairs" is a little less focused in it's story of a 1920s family threatened by marital discord, the play is unfortunately reliant on a shock-value incident which seems to only serve as a melodramatic device. The book includes an essay by William Inges on being a successful playwright.
Customer Review: A Playwright in Need of Rediscovering?
Midwesterner William Inge was one of the most celebrated playwrights of his day. No one would have blinked to hear his name mentioned alongside Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams. Today he is not much thought of, except for the four popular movies spawned by the four plays in this anthology... Inge may or may not be "world class," but he shouldn't go ignored. He dealt with the "little people," common Midwesterners and how they lived. Inge was superb at slowly revealing the subtext of their lives--the situations and mishaps that had got them to the point where a pivotal decision had to be made and there were only one or two options to consider. "Come Back, Little Sheba" is the first play, and the one the movie industry left almost untouched. With today's hindsight it becomes easier to understand Lola's depression in the context of Doc's incipient alcoholism, and the fact that they feel stuck with each other in a joyless middle age. As with Shakespeare, Inge would have made a terrific psychotherapist. "Picnic" is a Freudian's dream. Inge tells a realistic story of a twentyish beauty from the wrong side of the tracks who feels trapped into marrying one of the town gentry until a sexy drifter hits town. At the same time, without compromising realism, the subtext screams with repressed sexuality. Pay attention in particular to the three schoolteachers and how they talk about the statue in the high school. Cinematically, Rosalind Russell made the best of this meaty part. When the play was "opened up" into a movie, it gained realism with excellent cinematography and outdoor settings, but lost much of the hothouse atmosphere that is quintessentially Inge. "Bus Stop" is the most optimistic of these four plays. It concerns a likeable but socially and sexually naive young cowboy from Montana who falls head over heels in love (and lust) with a young woman trying to make a living singing in a seedy bar/nightclub. How this young bronco gets busted is interesting to watch--it's kind of an anti-screwball comedy although it ends well. Again, Inge relates his characters through dialog and you couldn't ask for a more colorful slice of Fifties Americana than this busload of strangers stuck for the night in a rundown diner/bus stop. The movie was a fine vehicle for Marilyn Monroe but except for a few scenes, doesn't follow the stage play... Re: "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs": Without giving too much of the plot away, this play concerns a character that unfortunately has become too much of a stock figure in American fiction: the father who is too busy making money to take much interest in his children. This father, specifically, is a traveling salesman, and despite his wife's insistence on maintaining all the 1920s proprieties, the children become uncomfortably aware why Dad is out on the road more than is strictly necessary. Inge turned the pace down on this one to match the children's slower pace of recognition that the ideal moral world they had been instructed to live by wasn't always followed. For the money "Four Plays" is a great investment. In particular, I urge anyone with an interest in American theater to buy it. With plays that are 40 to 50 years old, Inge does not read like a contemporary playwright; his product is very 1950s. To today's upper-middle-class, therapy-aware audiences, some of his Freudian insights might come across as laughably overstated. Bit simply as works of literature these plays are well worth the reading.

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