*A Bazaar Costume Shoppe
CHEWING THE EXISTENTIAL CUD:
THE TRANSFORMATION OF TRAGEDY IN
*THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS.*
So it was that after Miller explored New England, and Williams the South, that Inge set upon his region, the Midwest, where he presented the distinctly non-glamorous life of rural Kansas – Bud Stamper in Splendor in the grass, people whose lives where as far from the tensel and glitz of Hollywood as they were from the turtlenecks and berets of New York – and yet Inge imbued these characters with qualities no less fascinating. With a subtle ear for the coded tones signaling the alternating dominance and submission which families use among themselves, Inge forced his audience to see that his people's interior lives were massive – Inge subterranean caverns full of barely tamed demons – an awesome achievement in technical terms when one considers that in play-writing these interior lives can only be revealed in-directly, as the playwright is denied the novelist's luxury of editorializing or summarizing.
But that's about some specifics. I want to shift gears now, and talk about some specifics. Think of the characters themselves, etched so deeply in our memories that we know them as well as anyone who's ever sat next to us in a theatre. In The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, when, after seventeen years of marriage, Rubin strikes Cora for the first time, his action sets off a chain of events which rattles every skeleton in the family closet, and the house of cards comes tumbling down. Furthermore, that event takes place offstage – through a sound effect – and here we have a piece of great theatre. When the audience hears that slap, the stage comes alive with a living senual detail unavailable to poetry and fiction and even film … as this live action. By way of comparison, I can only think of Ibsen and the pistol shot which literally end Hedda Gabler, or maybe the scream of the impaled king at the end of Marlowe's Edward II. In any event, it's ironic that in the age of Happy Endings Inge is neglected, especially as Rubin and Cora, as well a Rennie and Sonny, discover compromise and growth, while Willy in Salesman and Amanda in Menagerie are consigned to their own private hells where they dream of diamonds and jonquils, symbols of am idyllic past which never really existed. Rubin and Cora in Dark, on the other hand, are far more earthy and real, but most important they demonstrate the capacity for change. Indeed, instead of waxing nostalgic about the harness business, Rubin recognizes that the Industrial Revolution has changed the world around him and that although he is frightened he must adapt.