The Chicago Sun Times review for ELT's production of "Short Plays By William Inge."

February 17, 2000

"Short Plays By William Inge"
By Lucia Mauro

Producer Frank Farrell never tires of finding ways to bring viewers closer to the creative process, For the Equity Library Theatre staging of "Short Plays By William Inge" at the North Lakeside Cultural Center, he envisions each of Inge's seven one-acts in relation to a specific room in this historic mansion.

At first, the idea of audience members hauling their folding chairs from room to room may seem cumbersome. Because the company has choreographed fluid transitions, the whole experience ultimately unites the audience and artists.

Inge's one-acts never grow static or tiresome even as a pall of crushing loneliness hags over them. Instead the environmental setting brings the plays to life as the actors gaze out of actual windows or brush their teeth in an actual bathroom.

Sensitively directed by Kevin Heckman, the opening Bus Riley's Back in Town sets the tone of thwarted love and mournful desperation inherent to Inge's dramas. Yet Inge, whose works dominated Broadway in the 1950s, does not wallow in pity. He laces each work with luminous humor.

Bus(played with roguish agony by Ian Novak) encounters his ex-lover Jackie (a stunning Malina Linkas) years after the tenderness of their first love was rudely extinguished. When Jackie was 17 and Bus 18, she became pregnant and he was sent to jail for having sexual relations with a minor.

Inge, a closeted homosexual, wrote urgently and sympathetically about the emotional tortures inflicted by taboos and intolerance. Two works directly related to his homosexuality, The Boy in the Basement (directed with horrifying tension by Lila M. Stromer) and The Tiny Closet (graciously directed by Linnea Todd) convey the unbearable anguish of being dubbed a "degenerate." The landlady of The Tiny Closet goes so far to say that she would rather harbor a communist that her tidy boarder who makes lady's hats.

One of Inge's greatest gifts lay in his ability to create microcosms of American society in ordinary little scenarios. For example, The Mall (directed with bittersweet humor by Farrell) presents snippets of lovers' trysts and broken-hearted partings in a park presided over by two homeless crones.

Shorter pieces, such as A Social Event (directed by Joe Falocco who casts the leads a s lesbian couple) and Memory of Summer (directed by Ellyzabeth Adler) about an aging belle of the ball, address the desperate human need to be loved.

In fact, each of the seven one-acts explores this central facet of our existence. Inge pulls it together in People in the Wind, where his lost characters search for self-fulfillment at a roadside diner. Director Robert W. Behr captures the pained hope of the lost on a journey to nowhere.

Standouts include Kristie Berger, Pat Vern-Harris, Judy Blue, Nancy Nickel and R. John Roberts.