Faye Garrit is an immediately recognizable William Inge woman: anxious, unmoored and yearning for something more, whether it be finding a purpose in her superficial life or just making it with a hot stud who comes knocking. Emmy-winner Kyra Sedgwick (TV’s “The Closer”) plays all the requisite notes of this desperate, fierce but also unfocused character in “Off the Main Road,” the previously-unproduced Inge play that is receiving its premiere as the season opener at the Williamstown Theater Festival. Though the play has moments of interest, some tender and funny scenes and flashes of insight into three generations of women in a changing mid-century America, it’s a sudsy, second-shelf melodrama.
Mandy Greenfield, the new artistic director at the summer theater in the Massachusetts Berkshires — and formerly the artistic producer of the Manhattan Theater Club — admirably brings a commitment to new work as well as to established American writers to her new digs, and here she gets a two-fer with a play from the early-to-mid ’60s whose story was the basis of a 1966 television film starring Anne Bancroft.
Director Evan Cabnet tries to find grace notes amid the characters’ mood swings and often arch, if not clunky, dialogue as they grapple with careening subjects such as the changes modern women face, the pressures of celebrity, closeted homosexuality, psychoanalysis, faith and, ominously, suicide. (Inge killed himself in 1973 at the age of 60.)
Faye, a St. Louis socialite, has fled her abusive, handsome second husband Manny (Jeremy Davidson), an alcoholic ex-baseball star. She escapes to an off-season resort cabin outside the city, assisted by her 17-year-old daughter Julia (Mary Wiseman), who spent most of her life in a Catholic boarding school.
Shortly Faye’s formidable mother arrives (Estelle Parsons, bringing much needed, though stereotypical, humor to the play), the first of many visitors to the well-traveled cabin. Her mother is an imperious woman of privilege who criticizes and coddles her daughter while Faye, both self-aware and oblivious, spends much of the play simply at loose ends.
When Manny arrives contrite, Faye finds she has deep feelings for him — some of them driven by her libido — so when local stud Gino (Aaron Costa Ganis) later makes his way into her cabin, Faye succumbs in an awkward scene of purple passion. “What rapture!” she says as she drops her nominal resistance.
Faye isn’t the only one coming to terms with her sexuality. Julia is discovering first love and sex with local boy Victor (Daniel Sharman). Meanwhile, a closeted gay friend of Faye’s, Jimmy (Howard W. Overshown), drops by so they can have an intimate chat about life, love and sex, but it’s merely a rest stop off the main narrative road.
Manny soon returns in a jealous murderous rage, Julia heads to the convent and Faye finally makes a decision about her own life. But her changes of heart and mind are thinly drawn, abruptly realized and ultimately unsatisfying, like much of the play.
The cast infuses the work with nuances that try to offer shading in Inge’s broad strokes. Sedgwick commands the stage with the brittle energy of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Wiseman does a fine job as the spiritual daughter in search of a dependable love, and Overshown and Sharmon have some tender and sad moments, too.
But it’s little respite for what, in the end, is a long tiring journey of a play.