William Inge (1913-1973) was a Middle Western American playwright who wrote hopeful psychological plays about matriarchal small-town families under the stress of unexpected crisis. That crisis is often the intrusion of a male character whose sexual persona unglues the fragile artifice of a damaged family.

Why Mockingbird — and PZ — for William Inge?

Because Inge had a wistful and sympathetic attitude towards Christianity, and a clear dramatic understanding of grace in practice. He had been disappointed by the Church, which is usually Methodist, Episcopalian, or Presbyterian in his plays — Inge grew up Presbyterian — but he was always wishing (“and a hoping” – “Dusty” Springfield, for whom, remember, the only boy who could ever please her was the son of a preacher man) that the Church would deliver its real product. This wistfulness comes across very strongly in Inge’s 1960 play A Loss of Roses, in which a traveling evangelist is able to ask the core questions about life that the unhappy lead characters are unable to ask themselves. It also comes across in the movie Splendor in the Grass (1961), for which William Inge won the Academy Award as writer. In “Splendor” Inge puts some wonderful words into the mouth of an Episcopal minister, whom Inge himself plays!

There is a touching “if only” to the Christian references in Inge’s plays. You can also see them in The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, and in his 1971 novel My Son is a Splendid Driver.

Our man was never able to overcome depression. He took his own life, from carbon monoxide poisoning, in 1973. He also became a Catholic towards the end of his life. He loved Thomas a Kempis.

William Inge also understood about sex, and was able to speak from both sides of the aisle. It still amazes readers today when he puts his extraordinarily honest libidinal situations right in the middle of small-town Kansas life during the Great Depression. But that’s the way it was. That’s the way it is!

William Inge never turned a blind eye. And he never ceased looking for hope, from the New Testament.

Oh, and he was also a long-term member of Alcoholics Anonymous. He stayed sober — remembered he was a drunk — for many years. You probably won’t find a better enactment, in modern drama, of an AA “intervention” than he wrote in Come Back, Little Sheba.

Listen here.