Los Angeles Theater Review: COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA (A Noise Within)

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by G. Bruce Smith on April 7, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

COME BACK TO A NOISE WITHIN

The current production of Come Back, Little Sheba at Pasadena’s A Noise Within proves that William Inge’s breakout 1950 Broadway hit is still relevant today.

Deborah Strang as Lola and Geoff Elliott as Doc in COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA at A Noise Within - Photo by Craig Scwartz.The Tony Award-winning play (for actors Shirley Booth and Sidney Blackmer), later made into an Oscar-winning film, follows a middle-aged couple, Lola and Doc, in a Midwest town in the middle of the 20th century.

Their childless marriage is fraught with ghosts of the past, awash in yearning and, for Doc’s part, a bitterness that rests uneasily beneath the surface. Doc is gentlemanly and proper–prim even. He is also a recovering alcoholic whose recent commitment to sobriety through the 12-Step program seems genuine. Lola, a beauty when the couple married, is yin to her husband’s yang; she’s gregarious, vivacious and nostalgic, if also a frumpy housewife who neglects her chores.

Deborah Strang as Lola in COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA at A Noise Within - Photo by Craig Scwartz.Into this mix has come a young and carefree college art student boarder, Marie, whose sexual escapades unwittingly create a catalyst for a marital implosion.

Clearly, the play contains dialogue that is of its time yet still prompted opening night twitters from the audience (Marie: “Most husbands would never think of getting their own breakfast”). An exchange between Doc and Lola on the fairness of women art models posing nude while men are more modestly attired is also amusing to contemporary patrons–but it also strikes a chord: consider female-vs.-male nudity in modern films.

Miles Gaston Villanueva (Turk) & Lili Fuller (Marie) in COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA at A Noise Within - Photo by Craig Scwartz.Sensitively directed by ANW co-artistic directors Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott, Come Back, Little Sheba is meaningfully relevant with its timeless themes and emotional underpinnings—yearning, love, passion, and the desire for connection among others. Even the secret world that is hidden behind an outwardly pleasant life in the heartland resonates today, despite an age of voyeuristic reality shows such as Housewives. In its most extreme modern manifestation, all you have to do is look to families in pleasant suburbs who have secretly enslaved kidnaped girls.

Lili Fuller (Marie) & Miles Gaston Villanueva (Turk) in COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA at A Noise Within - Photo by Craig Scwartz.And who hasn’t echoed in their own messy lives Doc’s line, repeated near the end of the play by Lola, “We gotta go on”?

The ANW cast members inhabit their 1950 characters with stunning authenticity. Geoff Elliott dexterously captures the two sides of Doc—the restrained and kindly sober version and the frighteningly cruel drunk persona. Deborah Strang gives a heartbreaking performance that subtly reveals Lola as a woman who understands that her likely loveless marriage is in shambles even as she recognizes there’s not much choice but to somehow keep going on.

Deborah Strang as Lola and Geoff Elliott as Doc in COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA at A Noise Within. Photo by Craig Scwartz.photos by Craig Schwartz

Come Back, Little Sheba
A Noise Within
3352 East Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena
scheduled to end on May 17, 2014
for tickets, call 626-356-3100 x 1
or visit www.anoisewithin.org

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