The American Theater Company brings back William Inge’s original play The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. William Inge was born in Independence, Kansas on March 3, 1913. After getting his masters from the George Peabody College for Teachers, he began working as a drama and music critic for the St. Louis Times.
A new world seemed to have opened up for Inge, and heavily influenced by Tennessee Williams’ play, The Glass Menagerie, he created his own. Determined, Inge sent his first script to Williams who advocated for its production. Farther off from Heaven (1947) was produced in Dallas, Texas by Margo Jones. Then in 1950 he wrote Come back, Little Sheba. This play earned him great reviews and is currently in production at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater (773.871.3000) through Oct. 21.
He surpassed his previous success with the play Picnic (1952), which won him a Pulitzer Prize. Years later he conjured up more creative juices to rework his first script, a piece that would later be considered his finest play.
The Dark at the Top of the Stairs made its Broadway debut in 1957. Loosely based on Inge’s own life and family, he is portrayed through Sonny Flood’s character, played exceptionally well by Edward S. Heffernan. The little boy has a very impressive biography.
Other characters included the overwhelmingly devoted mother, the pathetically shy teenage sister, and the aggressively masculine father. The play takes place in Oklahoma in the 1920s during the popularity of the oil business.
The story takes off after an abrupt quarrel between the wife, Cora Flood, and her husband, Rubin Flood. Worried, the young mother consults her flamboyant sister while trying to hold her family together.
The play explores the complexity of human relationships and the never-ending struggles of married life. Interestingly, the archetypes of a selfish wife, a bossy wife, and the frequent pushover wife are all illustrated through characters in the play.
However, I couldn’t help but wonder what’s so special about this family? Sure, it portrays the problems of an American family eloquently, but every family has problems, and every family finds ways to overcome them. Through a series of very dramatic and serious events, the obligations and social expectations of women are put to the test. The changing times take a toll on this family, and the mother’s hopeful question arises, “Wouldn’t it be nice if life were as sweet as music?”
Now playing in the cozy American Theater Company, located on 1909 W. Byron, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs reiterates the sincere definition of family. Performances run through Oct. 29. For more information, call the box office at (773) 929-1031.