Last night we had our first official William Inge Festival event: a production of six short plays by Inge that had never been staged or even published. Interlacing all of them was a play called “Love-Death,” which was a series of one-man scenes that mirrored Inge’s eventual suicide in 1973, and if you knew of Inge’s background and his professional history, the play was very prescient. It was, in a sense, a staged suicide note. At times funny, at times heartbreaking, it was probably his truest work, at least in terms of dialogue and character. As I watched it, I could imagine Inge’s niece and my dear friend, the late Jo Ann Kirchmaier, smiling sadly and saying, “Oh, Uncle Bill….”
The other plays were a mix of farce — a piece called “Bad Breath” was a string of sketches that mocked TV commercials from the 1960’s, skewering everyone from Mrs. Olsen shilling coffee to teenage angst about using the right soap in order to get laid — to one piece that seemed like a combination of Harold Pinter and Sam Shepherd. I never knew that Inge had this side to his writing, and while it wasn’t SNL, it was refreshing.
The last piece, “Morning at the Beach,” was more a collection of character studies for people who would populate his other plays, including Dr. Lyman from Bus Stop who has a penchant for underage girls, Mrs. Potts and Madge from Picnic, and, of course, this being Inge, a stage full of well-built men with their shirts off preening their maleness.
My only complaint was that the scripts could have used some judicious editing; I suppose that’s one reason they never saw the stage. But overall it was an insight — good or otherwise — into a man and his writing that we didn’t know about.