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Dramatic roles unfold in local production of Come Back, Little Sheba

A great American classic is being performed at the New Phoenix Theatre in Buffalo.  

Come Back, Little Sheba –depicting a broken down marriage – was the creation of American playwright William Inge.

WBFO and Am-970’s Eileen Buckley recently sat down with some of the cast members and director to learn why this production was selected.

Come Back, Little Sheba first hit the Broadway stage 1950, then in 1952 Burt Lancaster and Shirley Booth stared in the Academy Award winning movie version.

“I was told that, by someone else that Inge is done everywhere, not locally.   And I felt he was avoided locally…and I love the play,”  said Joseph Natale, direcotr of Come Back, Little Sheba at New Phoenix.

“I’ve always felt that Inge, the author, was never looked upon as a great dramatist…He was always trying to get where Tennessee Williams was...I think he did in different ways.”

And indeed in different ways, Inge’s work expanded to other famous and award winning movies like Bus Stop, Picnic and Splendor in the Grass.

Natale is proud to present the great playwrights work to a local audience.  He is also directing his own wife, Kelli Bocock-Natale, in the production. She plays the lead role of Lola.   Bocock-Natale is well known in local theatre for her roles on stage.  Most recently she directed Peter Pan at the New Phoneix.  But perhaps this is the most dramatic role for Bocock-Natale – contrasting more comedic role, and her one woman show as Sophie Tucker several years ago.

"It is different for me…I haven’t done anything, like a dramatic role in years.  I’m excited about doing it, but terrified at the same time," said Bocock-Natale. 

So who exactly is Lola?    

 “She’s a woman in her 40’s... the marriage is stale…her husband is a recovering alcoholic….so I think people can identify with that," said Bocock-Natale.

It is a role Bocock-Natale said she always wanted to portray, but first had some maturing to do.

 “When you have done theatre for as long as I have, you start relying on, dare I use the term 'bag of tricks',  you become known in the city for singing and making people laugh...so to challenge myself with this is exciting," said Bocock-Natale.

“What Kelli said…ditto," said Buffalo actor Richard Lambert.  Lambert is playing  Lola’s husband Doc.

“She said, used the phrase of  'bag of tricks"…but as I'm 53 now, I'm not doing the same kind of performance that I did 25 years ago," and having Kelli as a friend for all these years,  there is a certain shorthand that we share as well," said Lambert.

The level of maturity needed to perform the roles of Lola and Doc.  Lambert and Bocock-Natale  both sum up the playwright's work as providing them with  acting and staging challenges beyond their past performances. 

Director Joseph Natale said his challenge is revealing the story of Lola and Doc, little by little, slowing unraveling the past sufferings of the couple, unleashing one of the most touching scenes of the play.

"It's beautiful because after a horrendous attack on Lola, Doc gets sent to the hospital and when he comes home, the final scene of the play is heart breaking, for me as a director and viewer of the show," said Natale. 

In the end – not all the wounds are healed between Lola and Doc. Many questions remain unanswered.  But Natale says that’s the clinching beauty of Inge’s writing - because in real life drama's there are sometimes no clear answers.