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THE BASICS: This domestic drama from 1950 is the play that brought William Inge to the attention of the literary world. The production at the New Phoenix Theatre, directed by Joseph Natale, plays Thursdays – Saturdays at 8pm, through April 21st. Thursday evenings are Pay What You Can. The show runs about 2 hours and 20 minutes with its single intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The action takes place in an old house in a run-down neighborhood of a Midwestern city–circa 1950. Doc Delaney and his wife Lola are a middle aged couple leading lives of (usually) quiet desperation. Doc is a chiropractor, a would-be MD whose career plans evaporated in the face of his “emergency” wedding. Steady drinking has robbed him of material success and emotional stability, although when we meet him, Doc has been dry for nearly a year, and seems to be doing pretty well (thanks to the local AA). Lola, who lost her baby with Doc, and was unable, for medical reasons, to have another, has been drifting along aimlessly. She doesn’t work (Doc wouldn’t hear of it), and, over the years, has become less and less of a homemaker. She’s the very personification of sloth. Both Delaneys are consumed by regret. Lola has endless dreams about a cute little puppy she had named Sheba, who mysteriously disappeared. Pitifully, she spends a few minutes every day on the porch, calling for the long absent dog. In an effort to stay afloat financially, the Delaneys have taken in a boarder–a lovely, animated college girl named Marie–and she has become the bright spot in their lives. They lavish her with an almost parental affection. When Marie takes up with Turk, a simpleminded jock who Doc feels is all wrong for her, the delicate “family” balance is disturbed, and fireworks ensue.
CAST AND PRODUCTION: Kelly Bocock-Natale and Richard Lambert are convincingly real, and highly engaging as the Delaneys. We really feel their pain. In the small role of Ed Anderson, Doc’s AA sponsor, Keith Elkins also seems very natural. Other performances are more mannered, actorly. As much as I enjoyed Jen Leibowitz as Marie, I kept wishing that she would “dial it back” a bit. The same applies to Margo Davis as the German (Jewish?) immigrant neighbor, Mrs. Coffman, and Nickalaus Koziura as Marie’s intended from back home, the nerdy, snobby Bruce. Sometimes less is more, especially in an intimate space like the New Phoenix. The play’s long first act seems a bit unfocused, but in the late night confrontation of Doc and Lola, director Natale (and the play itself) really delivers. The period set by Chris Cavanaugh is nicely detailed. Kudos to Steve Borowski for scraps of original music that do a lot to set the mood.
FINAL THOUGHTS: It’s great to see the New Phoenix reviving worthy American plays like this one (and last season’s INHERIT THE WIND). Even with its faults, the production is plenty solid, and, thanks to the fine work of Bocock-Natale and Lambert, packs quite a punch. Drama lovers, take note!

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO:  This means trouble.   A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both.  Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS:  Passable, but no great shakes.  Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic.  Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS:  I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater.  If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS:  Both the production and the play are of high caliber.  If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS:  Truly superb–a rare rating.  Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart.  Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

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