Inge, who spent time as a child at a boarding house in Kansas, pulls from his own life experience, as the play is set in this same locale, nicely re-created with whitewashed front porches, screen doors, even a convincing tree, on the intimate stage of the Spotlighters Theatre.
It’s a summer day in 1953 and Flo Owens (Janise Whelan), owner of the boarding house and sole parent of two daughters, Madge (Tiffany James) and Millie (Charlene V. Smith), is preparing for much more than the community picnic that evening.
Millie is the brainy tomboy who sneaks cigarettes, reads banned books and is jealous of the epic beauty of her sister, Madge, who nurtures her own envy of Millie’s intelligence.
“What good is it to be pretty?” Madge asks, a question far too existential for Flo, who only wants to see her daughter win a rich husband, but may not be for Hal, the brawny former big man on campus, now reduced to hopping freight trains and asking for handouts. Madge and Hal suffer from the same affliction, adored by people for what’s on their surface, but oblivious to who and what they are underneath, as they may be themselves.
When Madge and Hal dance together, neighbor Helen Potts (Eva Sivan) notes that the two seem meant to be so paired, and the moment evokes different feelings from every character on stage.
For Helen, she is rejuvenated by the couple’s youth; for aging schoolteacher Rosemary (Pam Feldman), it’s a reminder of her own loneliness and lost beauty; for Millie, it’s the world of “boys” she is just beginning to explore. And as the tremors of the couple’s passion spread, it is betrayal for Alan (Sean Mullin), Madge’s steady beau and Hal’s only friend, and horror for Flo as she sees her daughter about to relive her own tragic mistakes.
Director Sherrionne Brown evokes top-flight performances from everyone in the cast, who deserve extra kudos for providing their own costumes, bringing the feel of ’50s Midwest America to life, from Hal’s cowboy boots to Madge’s chiffon dance dress.
If you go
» Venue: The Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St
» When: Now through Dec. 21. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18
» Tickets: $18 for adults, $15 for students and seniors
» Information: 410-752-1225; spotlighters.org