by Rita Charleston
“Come Back, Little Sheba,” now running at Stagecrafters Theatre through Feb. 25, was the first of William Inge’s plays to enjoy broad acclaim on the national stage, premiering on Broadway in 1950. It was turned into a 1952 film with Shirley Booth reprising her role as Lola Delaney, for which she won a “Best Actress” Oscar, and Burt Lancaster as her husband, Doc.
The play follows a few days in the lives of Lola and Doc, married to each other for more than 20 years, and each scarred by loss and disillusionment. As tensions mount one can literally sense a time bomb ticking in the background.This time around, this iconic American classic, directed by Yaga Brady, stars Nancy Bennett as Lola and Rusty Flounders in the role of Doc.
According to Flounders, Doc considers his a “shotgun marriage” because he was a promising young medical student who married Lola when she claimed to be pregnant (although she eventually lost the baby). That and his subsequent alcoholism kept him from fulfilling any of his mighty dreams. “First I watched the movie and thought it was fascinating,’ said Flounders. “Then I read the play and worked on the character as if I would someday be playing Doc. I was told they would be doing the play and I might have the opportunity to play Doc. So by the time auditions rolled around, I was ready, and the audition went so well that I got the part.”
While a joy to have this role and be in this play, Flounders, 47, admits to one down side. “While every character you play has to have a kernel of something that makes you both similar, at the same time playing Doc is especially difficult for me. I find it difficult because I don’t like Doc. He is an arrogant man, so I would not like him. Or Lola. They are weak people, but what makes this play such a draw is the fact that Inge’s writing is so realistic, it somehow makes these people speak to us.”
Honestly, Flounders admitted, he had never heard of William Inge or this play, but he worked hard to become familiar with it and some of Inge’s other works. “And although this play cannot be modernized, audiences still like it and come to see it because of Inge’s writing. He can take a simple group of people and make them appealing. His characters may be weak, but they are still real because they enable us to find weaknesses in ourselves.”
Growing up, Flounders spent his formative years in the city’s Olney section before moving to Kentucky to complete his last three years of high school. From the age of 10 to 17 he had the desire to become a lawyer and public defender, but securing roles in school shows like ‘The Music Man,” “Bye, Bye, Birdie” and others soon changed his mind. But since he was a “terrible student,” he eventually decided to join the Navy. And before he knew it, 20 years had passed, and he had become a much better student, getting his associate’s degree in Oceanographic Technology and Vocational Technical Education.
“After that, when I left the Navy, I enrolled in the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and graduated with a BFA in Acting and a minor in Dance.” And since that time, Flounders moved back East to Sellersville, where he makes his home today. Some of his acting credits include appearances with the Media Theatre, Old Academy Players, Santa Fe Shakespeare Society, the Paradise Theater and more. He’s also writing and hopes to be doing more as time goes on.
“Today, everything I do brings me great joy, whether working with great, creative people or having the time to do so many things that I really enjoy. Thanks to my military pension, I’ll never be destitute. You know, as a kid you look for validation from others. But as an adult you don’t need that anymore. Validation comes from within. Five years from now I’d just like to still be working. That would be fantastic. For me, that would be the brass ring.”
Stagecrafters is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. For tickets call 215-247-9913.