Friday, January 18, 2008

Come Back Little Sheba

photo: Joan Marcus

Although it takes some time to adjust to, it isn't the color-blind casting of S. Epatha Merkerson that trips up this in many ways otherwise sturdy Broadway revival of William Inge's classic. It's that there is no chemistry between her and Kevin Anderson: we don't believe that these two have been sufferrng through a co-dependent marriage for decades. Additionally her physicality is something of a hindrance: when we're told that husband was in the habit of hitting wife during his alcoholic binges, we have to work to suspend our disbelief. She looks like she could haul off and knock him to the floor with one arm behind her back. These things considered, it's remarkable that Merkerson is able to sound as many notes of quiet desperation as she does in a performance that nearly overcomes her miscasting. It helps that Inge's play has gained something as it has aged: it's now a period piece, rendering a time before the popularization of feminism when the suburbs were full of married women who were expected to raise children and keep busy keeping house. It's no longer only this woman's childlessness and her husband's alcoholism which can be plainly seen as isolating forces: we're now keenly aware of the options that society did not allow for women in 1950. Excepting that the play's central relationship does not ring true. and that the final moments are curiously devoid of their intended emotional impact, the production is handsome and efficiently staged, also offering excellent supporting performances from the ensemble including Zoe Kazan, Brenda Wehle and Brian J. Smith.

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