Come Back, Little Sheba was to become William Inge's most popular play But the Broadway production did not create an immediate "smash hit." In his foreword to Four Plays, published in 1958, Inge observes that the play was popular with only about half of its reviewers and that its Broadway ran was less than six months Inge also reveals that he took a cut in royalties, and the cast took a cut in salary to keep the play running after the audiences dwindled within a few weeks of its opening. But in spite of the lukewarm reviews, Come Back, Little Sheba brought Inge several honors, including the George Jean Nathan Award and the Theatre Time Award.
At the time of its writing, Inge's play focused on subjects that were still controversial and not often discussed in public. Sexuality and pregnancy out of wedlock were shocking topics not usually portrayed m drama. Lola's pregnancy, which forced a shotgun wedding, was the type of scandal that families went to great effort to hide This was also 'true of alcohol addiction. Membership in Alcoholics Anonymous was not a topic for casual conversation, and the kind of drunken scene Doc creates in Act II was a seventeen minute revelation for most audiences
Many critics attacked Come Back, Little Sheba's use of symbolism, which they felt was too obvious. Most often Lola's dreams, Sheba the dog, and the blatant phallic symbolism of Turk's javelin were singled out for such criticism. Other reviewers noted that the characters were either flat or too contrived—or boring and repetitive. But reviewers who praised the play often found that Inge's drama did accurately portray the suffering of ordinary people. In spite of the mixed nature of the reviews, most critics did agree on one topic, praising the performances of Shirley Booth as Lola, and Sidney Blackmer as Doc, which they felt transcended the material.
In the decades following Come Back, Little Sheba & debut, the general consensus has been laudatory toward Inge's work. The play is now considered a groundbreaking achievement in the genre of domestic drama. While its subject matter has become common fodder fueling the mundane storylines of countless soap operas, Come Back, Little Sheba was among the first dramas to skillfully address the confluence of such topics as alcoholism, failed marriage, and broken dreams. While the play is sometimes referred to as dated and melodramatic, it is nevertheless valued as a prototype for realistic contemporary social theater.
Act I, Scene 1
The scene opens with Doc entering the set, a cluttered and untidy downstairs kitchen and living room. Doc offers to prepare breakfast for the boarder, Marie, but she declines. When his wife, Lola enters, her disarray offers a distinct contrast to the other two character's neatness. She begins by telling Doc that she has again dreamed of her dog, Little Sheba, who was lost twenty years earlier, and she wonders if she'll ever find her lost pet. But Doc doubts that the dog will ever return. Both characters are nostalgic for a period more than twenty years earlier, when both were young and still dreaming of a different life. Lola was a popular beauty who longed for children before a botched midwife's delivery ended their infant's life and any hope of another child. Doc had planned on being a medical doctor before he was forced to marry and support a pregnant Lola; instead he became a chiropractor.
Lola applauds Doc for being sober a whole year. Doc then tells Lola that he will be at Alcoholics Anonymous that evening helping other people resist the urge to drink. When Lola asks Doc if he drank from disappointment, he responds that to stay sober he needs to forget the past. Doc leaves for work after noting that Marie is too nice a girl to waste time on a man like Turk.
Marie then thanks Lola for taking such good care of her. Lola wants to hear about Marie's romance with Turk, but the young man soon comes to pick up Marie. After she is left alone, an obviously lonely Lola tries to engage the postman, her neighbor, Mrs. Coffman, and the milkman in conversation. Lola finally turns to the radio for company when a messenger appears with a telegram for Marie. Lola cannot resist and steams it open to find that Marie's fiancé, Bruce, will arrive the next evening.
As Lola is reading this message. Marie walks in to ask if she can complete her drawing of a semi-nude Turk in the living room. After quickly hiding the telegram, Lola watches Turk pose for Marie. When Doc returns, he is angry that Turk is semi-nude in front of Marie, but Lola assures him that it is for an art class. When Lola confesses to Doc the contents of the telegram, he is angry that she is so nosy. But Lola dismisses his concern and tells him that she is planning a wonderful dinner for Bruce. Marie, and the two of them. Just before Doc leaves the room, he tells Lola that if something happens to Marie, he will never forgive Lola. But he does not see the passionate kiss that Marie and Turk share after he has gone upstairs.
Act I, Scene 2
When this second scene begins, it is clear that Lola has spent the day cleaning house. The rooms are neat and very clean. When Lola returns after borrowing silver polish from Mrs. Coffman, she asks Doc to show her some of his card tricks, and the two recall the happiness of their courtship. Lola observes that their youth has vanished like Little Sheba,...
(The entire section is 1193 words.)