Welcome Back, William Inge
By Helaine Feldman, Contributing Writer, February 7, 2017
Although he won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama along with many other awards, had five plays produced on Broadway during the 1950s—which were later successfully adapted for the screen, William Inge remains largely underappreciated. But happily, not by Off-Broadway’s Transport Group.
This award-winning theatre company is presenting two of Inge’s finest plays—Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba—in rotating repertory at The Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street, from Thursday, February 23 through Sunday, April 16. The cast includes Michele Pawk (featured in the Transport Group’s 2007 revival of Inge’s The Dark at the Top of the Stairs), Emily Skinner (Billy Elliot), Heather MacRae (I Remember Mama), Joseph Kolinski (Follies), John Cariani (Something Rotten) and Hannah Elless (Bright Star).
Encouraged by Tennessee Williams, whom he met when he was a drama critic at the St. Louis Star-Times in 1943, Inge had his first play produced in Dallas in 1947. His first play to be produced on Broadway was Come Back, Little Sheba in 1950, which starred Shirley Booth and Sidney Blackmer, both receiving Tony Awards for their performances. The 1952 screen version starred Booth, who won an Oscar for her role, with Burt Lancaster.
Picnic ran on Broadway from February 19, 1953 to April 10, 1954 and brought Inge the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play also marked Paul Newman’s Broadway debut. It, too, was adapted for the screen and the stage version has been revived several times over the years.
This was followed in 1955 by Bus Stop, which was nominated for a Best Play Tony Award and was made into a film starring Marilyn Monroe.
Next up was the Broadway production of The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, which was nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Play, and was adapted into a film in 1960.
Inge closed out the decade with his 1959 play, A Loss of Roses, which was not as well received as the earlier four plays, but is distinguished for featuring newcomer Warren Beatty in the cast.
William Inge may not be well remembered on Broadway, but he is celebrated annually in his home town of Independence, Kansas where, since 1982, Independence Community College’s William Inge Center for the Arts has sponsored the William Inge Theatre Festival to honor playwrights. Inge also has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame and a black box theatre named for him at the University of Kansas.
Since its founding in 2001, Transport Group has produced 23 shows—13 new works and 12 revivals, including 12 plays and 13 musicals.
For tickets, schedule and information on these not-to-be-missed revivals of Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba, click here.
Cover: William Inge; photo: courtesy of William Inge Center for the Arts