Review: Winter’s Waltz at California Stage

“Is that just food coloring?”

“Is that just food coloring?”

Photo courtesy of California Stage

Fri 8pm, Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. Through 2/18; $12-$20; California Stage; 1725 25th Street. (in the R25 Arts Complex); (916) 451-5822;
Rated 4.0

Winter’s Waltz, Sacramento playwright Richard Broadhurst’s intense, late-night interchange between two men from vastly different backgrounds, is based loosely on the life of playwright William Inge, who came out of the American heartland in the 1950s, winning a Pulitzer Prize and an Oscar. Inge faded fast, and he took his life (brokenhearted at age 60) in 1973.

Broadhurst presents Ingram Wychoff, a onetime literary celebrity living alone in Manhattan, gazing out a picture window at the twin towers of the (new) World Trade Center. As the play opens, Wychoff welcomes Jamal, a small-time hustler who was briefly involved with the Black Panthers, currently peddling marijuana on the street. Incongruously, the lonely Wychoff offers wine and brie, and initiates a conversation.

Like Inge’s plays, Broadhurst’s script draws on sexual tension (Inge was closeted, but created several gay characters before that was cool). Broadhurst explores the vast discrepancy in these guys’ ages and backgrounds (white rural Kansas-slash-gritty New York City). Janis Stevens directs resourceful veteran Loren Taylor (whose performance in a 1996 local production of Death of a Salesman is still fondly recalled) and the much younger Tory Scroggins—their tag-team exchange turns Broadhurst’s witty lines into lively comic banter onstage, without diminishing the script’s dramatic mission. Broadhurst reportedly kept this play in a drawer for the 15 years; this belated premiere at California Stage is both welcome and long overdue.