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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Off the Main Road

Human love is imperfect.— Julia
Love is kind of a frightening thing.— Vic

Kyra Sedgwick
There are plenty of creaky sounds emanating from the Williamstown Theatre Festival in the guise of Off the Main Road, a recently discovered script by William Inge. The playwright was one of the stalwarts of the American theatre in the 1950's and '60's along with Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. He is best known for the plays Come Back, Little Sheba, Picnic (1953 Pulitzer Prize,) Bus Stop, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs and the film Splendor in the Grass (1961 Academy Award winner.) This play had to be problematic when it was written and aging has not been kind.

The story takes place in Missouri in the early '60's. Faye Garrit (Kyra Sedgwick) and her teen-age daughter Julia (Mary Wiseman) rent a cottage to hide from her husband Manny (Jeremy Davidson), an aimless former professional baseball player who has beaten her a number of times. While Faye futilely attempts to re-define herself, Julia explores her spiritual and emotional needs.

The Inge archives housed at Independence Community College in Kansas released Off the Main Road and other works in 2008. The play reflects acceptable playwriting standards of the mid-20th century and at times flashes of relevance — domestic violence, loss of identity and purpose, alcoholism— beyond the era in its themes and some moments of conversation.

Off the Main Road is indicative of consistent elements in Inge's plays. His major characters are often in search of themselves and someone to love and who will love in return. The setting is the Midwest of the mid-20th century and their principles, which are sometimes violated, are of a dutiful, God-fearing tenet.

The style and the delivery of some of the dialogue are strained by contemporary theatre criteria. Occasional titters resounded during several scenes when the dramatic intent called for a different reaction.

At times the dialogue's soap opera declarations were beyond the pale. This is a fault of the script's era and of director Evan Cabnet. Several of the characters were played as virtual caricatures, in particular the usually reliable Estelle Parsons as Faye's mother is blatantly controlling and manipulative, while Aaron Costa Ganis overacts macho womanizer Gino.

The strongest and most subtle performances are tendered by Wiseman's Julia and Daniel Sharman as Vic, her romantic interest. The most interesting character, and beautifully played, is Jimmy (Howard W. Overshown,) Faye's oldest friend who happens to be subtly gay when homosexuality was only alluded to on the stage. In a tender and beautifully staged scene between Faye and Jimmy we get an insight into what Inge has spent his career examining — the essence of human love and need.

Ms. Sedgwick tries valiantly to carry the play but is thwarted by the script's problematic construction. Though she succeeds in giving some depth to Faye and effectively utilizing the character's mercurial shifts, there is just so much the script allows her to do. Her projection like others in the cast, is sometimes wanting.With a beautiful set by Takeshi Kata and effective lighting by Ben Stanton, the technical elements evoke the claustrophobic nature of the characters' lives.

Inge's earlier plays are still highly regarded, but some deeper thought should have gone into the selection of this work. As a period piece, and a part of Inge's canon, it is instructive on many levels, but would be better explored in a seminar rather than on stage.

Off the Main Road by William Inge
Directed by Evan Cabnet
Cast: Becky Ann Baker, Aaron Costa Ganis, Jeremy Davidson, Joseph Huffman, Jonothon Lyons, Howard W. Overshown, Estelle Parsons, Kyra Sedgwick, Daniel Sharman, Mary Wiseman
Set Design: Takeshi kata
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton
Costume Design: Paloma Young
Sound Design: Ben Truppin-Brown
Production Stage Manager: Brandon Kahn
Run Time: Two hours, one intermission
Williamstown Theatre Festival Main Stage, 1000 Main St. (Route 2) Williamstown, MA
Previews 6/30/15; opening 7/2/15; closing 7/19/15 Performances: Tuesday -Thursday at 7:30; Friday and Saturday 8:00; Matinees: Thursdays and Sundays 2:00; Saturday 3:30.
Tickets: $65.00-$40.00; Children 18 and under $15.00 (subject to availability)
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at July 9th matinee performance
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