NY Theater Review by Joe Regan Jr.
William Inge’s first flop on Broadway, after a string of hits, was 1959’s A Loss of Roses which had a troubled out of town tryout (Shirley Booth quit, was replaced by Betty Field) and featured musical comedy star Carol Haney in her first dramatic role, with Warren Beatty who received a Tony Nomination in the Featured Actor category (who went from the play to star in Inge’s “Splendor in the Grass”), and Michael J. Pollard also in the cast. It was made into a movie eventually titled “The Stripper,” directed by Franklin J. Schaffner in 1963 with Joanne Woodward inheriting a part tailored for Marilyn Monroe, Richard Beymer in the Beatty part, and Claire Trevor as the mother. It, too, was not a success.
I did see the original production and had read the script in 1959 when Shelley Winters told me I was ideal for the Beatty part. The producers knew that Inge wanted Beatty (whose other Broadway credit was Compulsion). The Peccadillo Theater Company has a history of resurrecting forgotten plays including The Shanghai Gesture, Counselor at Law and an occasional original (Ten Chimneys, Zero Hour).
This production, beautifully directed by Dan Wackerman, artistic director, and stunningly designed by Harry Feiner whose work includes a stunning town and skyscape cyclorama. What Wackerman gets from the cast, in a script that harkens to the original, is the strong relationship between the two leading women and their extraordinary focus on the son. Deep within her cold manner, Deborah Hedwall suppresses her affection for her son, played by young attractive Ben Kahre, who tries to replace his deceased father in her life but can never live up to him. They both have jobs (a rarity at the beginning of the Depression) and share the expenses of the house. When Lila, played here by Jean Lichty, is stranded when her touring tent show shuts down, she calls on her former neighbor Helen for temporary shelter. Lila used to baby sit for Kenny when he was a kid and he is at first annoyed when his mother puts Lila in his bedroom without consulting him. Lila takes over the cooking and housekeeping, while she waits for her boyfriend (an actor in the company) to call her about a new job in Kansas City.
Initially antagonistic, Kenny soon becomes attracted to Lila and drunkenly falls in her bed. She gets him out, but the antagonism turns to a hot sexual attraction and Lila, who has had bad experiences with men, resists him. To reveal more of the plot would spoil the discovery of the surprises and the heart-breaking end.
This is an extraordinary revival and anyone who sees it will discover a treasure. The direction of the actors reveals all the subtext lost in the original production. Lichty, who initiated the revival with La Femme Productions in presentations at the Arkansas Rep and Cherry Lane Tongues Series, gives a totally different performance from Haney. She is animated and exciting in her bits of musical singing and dancing, and when she dances with Kahre, you can feel the heat between the two of them that she is resisting. You have to see the scene of them making love in silhouette to understand what great taste and imagery Wackerman and his production crew have contributed.
Do not miss this wonderful lost play.
A Loss of Roses continues at Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46 Street through June 7 with performances on Wednesdays at 7 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, and Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 pm. For reservations visit www.stclementsnyc.org or call 212 246-7277.
*Photos: Michael Portantiere