Chicago Theatre Review
A Forgotten Treasure
A Loss of Roses – Raven Theatre
William Inge’s haunting and heartbreaking drama, set outside Kansas City during the Great Depression, didn’t fare well on Broadway back in 1959. Following the playwright’s previous quartet of powerful, popular and critically accoladed plays, this sad tale of three Midwestern folks, whose lives feel unfulfilled and lost, just didn’t touch New York audiences quite as much. Inge had been much heralded for writing “Come Back, Little Sheba,” “Bus Stop,” “Dark at the Top of the Stairs” and, his Pulitzer Prize-winner, “Picnic.” All four proved to be solid box office hits and went on to become popular films, as well. But for some reason, audiences simply didn’t connect with this story and Inge was told to make some changes in his original script. Audiences never took to the play and it closed within three weeks.
Never known for shying away from significant dramatic literature, especially if it’s been forgotten or neglected by other theatre companies, Raven has decided to revive this play the way Inge originally intended it. Guided by Cody Estle, a gifted, young director whose been responsible for several of this theatre’s finest productions, Inge’s drama is restored to its original intended glory. Estle stages his sensitive production within Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s beautifully detailed, tiny Midwestern homestead. The kitchen is authentically adorned with appliances and culinary staples direct from the 30’s. Alexia Rutherford costumes her cast in period perfect fashion and Christopher Kriz washes the entire production in his lovely, original music and sound design.
Inge’s play focuses on three main characters, well-cast and honestly played by a trio of excellent actors. Abigail Boucher is perfection as Helen, the religious, widowed mother struggling to put bread on the table and to raise her son to be a good person. She sometimes comes off as a bit too brusque, but it’s a choice that informs Sam Hubbard’s young, Kenny. Mr. Hubbard is commanding in that James Dean kind of sultry sexy manner. But his earnestness to please his mom, and his eagerness to find some kind of happiness in this landscape of very little opportunity, is almost heartbreaking. Kenny loves his mother, but the kid is aching for something else, something more meaningful and satisfying. What he finds is Lila, a down-and-out actress, his former babysitter and his mother’s longtime friend. Lila has come to stay with Helen and Kenny and the sexual tension soon begins to grow. She’s played with stunning determination and blossoming optimism by the lovely Eliza Stoughton. This actress brings a quiet sensuality and hopefulness to the role of a woman who’s suffered abuse, neglect, battery and emotional illness. All Lila wants is to be loved and cared for, but Inge doesn’t give this character much of a chance for that. Lila, especially as portrayed by the excellent Ms. Stoughton, could be a cousin to any of Tennessee Williams’ tortured heroines. She’s simply magnificent.
This is one of those forgotten treasures that, like an exquisite period gown, had been stored away in an attic trunk. But at Raven Theatre, it’s been brought out into the light to be admired for its craftsmanship and worn again for its beauty. Against Inge’s four more popular and critically acknowledged plays this drama may pale a bit in comparison. Yet under Cody Estle’s sensitive and carefully nuanced direction, it becomes a little gem that almost feels brand new. This lovely, melancholy drama will charm audiences with its three lonely characters, all searching, as we all are, for a little love and understanding.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 17-April 2 by Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-338-2177 or by going to www.raventheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com