Play written by William Inge
What a difference a few decades makes, eh?
TV Guide used to matter. When I was old enough to eat breakfast alone, I discovered that meant I could read at the breakfast table (if you happened to be eating alone- a question of careful timing). TV Guide was smaller than other magazines so it sat on the top of the coffee table pile. I would grab it and see if anything good could be found. Then, I would plan my time entirely around whatever show appealed. It wasn’t like you could just watch a program anytime you wanted.
I had recently seen Star Wars and fallen in love with Princess Leia, like everyone else. I knew who Carrie Fisher was. Her name appeared in one of those “special program” ads in the white pages in the middle of TV Guide, right there with Laurence Olivier and Joanne Woodward. The show was something called Come Back, Little Sheba, an adaptation of a play by some dude named William Inge.
I don’t know what the rest of the family was doing, but I remember watching it alone. They’d probably had enough William Inge to last awhile, but I’ll get to that. I was rapt and very confused. The story seemed to hinge on a lot of histrionics about alcoholism and subtext about sex. So, one of my first encounters with serious modern theater ended in confusion to a degree that I didn’t even have the vocabulary to ask any questions.
Years later, I worked (in a very limited way) on a production of Bus Stop, which I thought was a marvelous play. I appreciated the way it captured a feeling of purgatory during a blizzard- a sense of being on the way to something as a metaphor for life.
As I have mentioned before, William Saroyan was my other youthful encounter with modern American play-writing, though I only read his work without seeing it at the time. From him, I developed an appreciation for the diversity that goes into humanity- even an approach to accepting it.
Recentlyreading William Inge’s Four Plays, I can understand my earlier uncertainties. Melodrama sits heavily on his stories in a way that dilutes his points. He comments on sex as a problem in ways that Tennessee Williams managed to make more concrete and less offensive. Inge’s interpersonal relations become abstract even as they talk more and more to one another. Great actors might be able to make something of it all, but it feels like they’d be doing the same work trying to figure out Shakespeare’s scene descriptions.
Originally I had planned to write about Luigi Pirandello, also, but I grew bored re-reading his plays, so it seemed disingenuous to expound on his qualities. I actually kept at Inge’s plays and they flew by, so he has something going on there- I’m just not sure the thrill should come from anticipating the next bit of oddness.
Then again, I still liked Bus Stop. In his introduction to the plays, Inge talks about learning to move multiple characters about on the stage and interlace their stories. I remember being struck by the continued life all over the stage when I first saw the production- something the movie is unable to contain. I still find the old professor creepy and sympathetic. Virgil is a good man who drives home every metaphor that you want to read into the play.
So, I’m grateful to Inge, not even grudgingly.
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You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 133 more to go.
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