Playwright: William Inge. At: Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St. Tickets: 773-338-2177 or www.raventheatre.com; $18-$42. Runs through: April 2
It's tough to warm to William Inge's 1959 Broadway flop A Loss of Roses, now being bravely revived by Raven Theatre. Although it's largely well-acted in a handsomely designed period production overseen by director Cody Estle, the play itself comes off like an artifact of gender-role stereotyping and what many feminists would call "slut-shaming."
A Loss of Roses does have some resonance when viewed in historical context to the life and times of Inge, a Kansas-born playwright famed for 1950s Broadway successes like Picnic, Bus Stop and Come Back, Little Sheba, along with his 1961 Academy Award-winning screenplay to Splendor in the Grass. Inge had lifelong struggles with alcoholism, depression and homophobia as a closeted gay man before he committed suicide in 1970 at age 60.
A Loss of Roses could be interpreted as a fatalistic trope on the outsider unfairly doomed to be rejected by a hypocritical "moral" society. But the play might have stood out more in pop cultural consciousness if it didn't come off like a gender-reversed retread of Inge's earlier Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Picnic, or a poor cousin of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.
A Loss of Roses centers around the unemployed touring actress Lila Green ( a vivacious Eliza Stoughton ) at the height of the Great Depression. Lila finds temporary refuge outside Kansas City in the small-town home of her old friend, the church-going widow Helen Baird ( a no-nonsense Abigail Boucher ) and her 21-year-old son, Kenny ( a tentative Sam Hubbard ).
The stay isn't exactly a haven for Lila, since there's tension in the Baird home. Helen feels Kenny isn't living up to his potential. She also dislikes Kenny's late-night pursuit of girls along with his mooching friend known as "Jelly" ( Antonio Zhiurinskas, who is fine as comic relief ). Complications also ensue when a mutual attraction inevitably develops between Lila and the much-younger Kenny.
A Loss of Roses is hard to love for many reasons. The sexist views Inge gives to Kenny are hard to swallow. It also feels against character to see Lila give in so easily to her controlling actor boyfriend, Ricky ( an appropriately menacing Joel Reitsma ), especially when she could have sought help from so many other actor friends like Mme. Olga St. Valentine ( a too-flighty Barbara Roeder Harris ) and Ronny Cavendish ( Lane Flores, overdoing the flamboyance ).
That Raven Theatre lavished so much time and care on a less-than-perfect script like A Loss of Roses is a curiosity, especially since it marks the start of Inge's theatrical decline. There may be some insights to be gleaned from the play's unfair and unhappy conclusions, although A Loss of Roses largely comes off as a relic best left on a back shelf.