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Come Back, Little Sheba at The Summer Company

Director Justin Sines brilliantly evokes the intimate, crepuscular despair of William Inge’s 1950 work


It always appears to be night in The Summer Company’s production of Come Back, Little Sheba, even in the play’s daytime scenes. With this simple conceit, director Justin Sines brilliantly evokes the intimate, crepuscular despair that has engulfed the Delaney family, leading to the riveting events of William Inge’s 1950 work.

This is America just before the influx of television, and radio is the only lifeline of imaginary escape in the home of Doc and Lola, played with remarkable depth by Mark Yochum and Susan McGregor-Laine. They live inward-looking existences, like figures inhabiting Baroque paintings that fear to gaze beyond the darkness surrounding them.

In the first moment of the first scene, Yochum reduces the ethos of the entire drama into the micro-gesture of his hand reaching past a whiskey bottle for something in the cupboard. This minute hesitation presages horrendous actions later on.

The gifted McGregor-Laine is Doc’s wife, as hopelessly lost in the past as she is lost from her own future. The acuity of her near-stuttering speech during stressful episodes is utterly convincing and masterful.

Lauren Brendel plays the student boarder Marie like the ingénue she is, and manages to string along two love interests, as well as Doc – no easy task. Heather Clark, as the nosy neighbor Mrs. Coffman, becomes a strong recurring presence even in a minor role.

John E. Lane Jr.’s set brings us not just into the Delaney home, but into the occupants’ psyches. You can almost smell the dirty wax on the linoleum floors of this seedy house. Instead of being portrayed cramped as in many productions, the set spreads out so near the audience that those who are faint of heart are advised not to sit in the front row — especially during Doc’s drunken rage when he carves up the room with a hatchet.

Lighting designer Christina Levi often tunes the illumination mid-scene as if to embellish certain dramatic beats the way a musical score usually does.

The creative risks this production takes are all the more rewarding for their subtlety. How rare to encounter a performance so immediate that you feel like you’ve become trapped in the chiaroscuro of its world. 

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