A Loss of Roses

(Alan Howard played the part of Kenny)

It was brave of Peter Cotes, whose touring production of Inge's Come Back, Little Sheba met with a disappointing response nine years ago, to persevere in trying to win over English theatre audiences to this so-American dramatist by directing and co-presenting his A Loss of Roses at the Pembroke last month - particularly as this is the one Inge play that was not a hit in New York.

A glance at the English edition of Inge's plays - Come Back, Little Sheba, Picnic, Bus Stop and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs - shows him to be a gifted dramatist with a vivid sense of theatre and a gift for easy, flowing dialogue. But Inge's obsession with sex, which appears to be based on a little elementary study of psych-analysis, quickly palls and it is difficult to feel very much concern about the lusty young men, dead from the waist upwards, who stride through all his plays like an idée fixe.

Dressed in the inevitable dungarees, this figure reappears in A Loss of Roses as Kenny, a wayward young man living in Kansas City during the Depression of 1933 with his widowed mother. The relationship between mother and son is not a happy one, and only when the boy seduces his mother's actress friend is he able to go on to achieve mature relationships with women.

The drama unfolds very much in the manner of a psychiatrist's case book with the characters obligingly psycho-analysing themselves and each other at appropriate junctures. Mr Inge also adopts some crude and very obvious symbolism calculated to upset the English sophisticate to the point where he would blush to admit the play has any quality at all. Yet the play is supported by sound theatrical craftsmanship even though the plot itself follows a highly forseeable course. There is also a good deal of accuracy and penetration in Inge's view of human relationships. The trouble is that it is not enough to tell the truth. It has also to be told truthfully.

The fact that the play unfolds on a verandah, in a kitchen, at a dining room table and on two beds, means that the Pembroke's small open stage became extremely cluttered with props and scenery. Scenes of seduction and passionate love making viewed at the close quarters of a theatre-in-the-round often take on the absurdity of real life and the collapse of a member of the audience during a vital scene made this premiere still more unhappy.

Joan Miller, famous for her ability to give and succeed with a "big" perormance, played the part of Mom with beautiful restraint and compelling sincerity. As Mom's friend, Jane Griffiths looked altogether too young and fresh to be the seasoned trouper and shop-soiled lover intended. Alan Howard, as the boy, was well cast and showed promise.

Peter Roberts

Plays and Players, March, 1962.

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