|Adrianne Krstansky and Derek Hasenstab in Come Back, Little Sheba. (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)|
Come Back, Little Sheba is the drama that put playwright William Inge on the map when it was produced on Broadway in 1950. Shirley Booth created the role of Lola, the slovenly, nostalgic wife of Doc Delaney, a chiropractor in a small Midwestern college town. (Her legendary performance is preserved in the 1952 movie version.) The play, which David Cromer has staged for Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company in its South End space at the Calderwood Pavilion, is about two people who have, in different ways, failed to accept the passing of their youth. Doc impregnated Lola when he was a medical student; he dropped out to marry her, they lost the baby, and he’s lived in regret for the sexual indiscretion that resulted in the loss of the life he’d planned for himself. Alcohol fueled that regret and disappointment; it also ate up his inheritance. When the play begins he’s been sober for a year, attending AA meetings regularly. Lola, lonely at home while Doc is seeing his patients, luxuriates in her memories of the youthful amorousness he’s trying to forget. (Her lost puppy, Little Sheba, is a rather obvious symbol of her vanished youth.) Their distinctive attitudes toward the past are illuminated by their reaction to their boarder, Marie, a coed with a serious boyfriend back home in Cincinnati who is carrying on a casual affair with a football player named Turk. Lola is touched by their lovemaking; it reminds her of her own romance with Doc, when she was young and pretty. Doc prefers to think of Marie as pure; he doesn’t like Turk, who he thinks isn’t good enough for her. The truth is that Turk’s sexuality recalls his own twenty years ago. The incontrovertible evidence that Turk and Marie are sleeping together forces a confrontation with his own past that knocks him for a loop – and right off the wagon.