Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Empty Drama

Come Back Little Sheba
Written by William Inge
Directed by Michael Pressman
Starring S. Epatha Merkerson, Kevin Anderson, Zoe Kazan, Brian J. Smith

January 3-March 16, 2008
Biltmore Theatre
261 West 47th Street

Come Back Little Sheba was a hit in its day and won many accolades, including an Oscar for Shirley Booth when she recreated her stage role of Lola opposite Burt Lancaster in the film version. But that day is long gone. Always thought of as a poor stepchild of Tennessee Williams’ booze-soaked plays, William Inge’s melodrama creaks more than ever in the current revival, and even its hard-working stars cannot save it.

Former teen beauty queen Lola is now a middle-aged wife to Doc, an alcoholic who has been on the wagon for the past year but seems about to fall off. This is largely because of winsome young boarder Marie, whose own complicated personal life draws his ire thanks to the suppression of Doc's desires during his affectionless marriage.

While Lola spends her days chatting with the mailman, milkman, and a nosy neighbor, she also calls out the door to her long-lost puppy, Little Sheba. Such ham-fisted symbolism grates from the start--her calls to Little Sheba are cries for her long-lost, idealized youth--and Michael Pressman’s competent staging never finds any deeper meanings in the play. Problematic too is James Noone’s extraordinary, two-tiered set of a middle-class home, which distracts us from watching Lola and Doc trying to find what’s been lost.

The actors try their best. Merkerson is an innately sympathetic actress and her sad, broken voice speaks volumes about Lola’s plight, yet she does not create a fully realized character. As Doc, Kevin Anderson makes a virile husband, yet he’s so young-looking that he seems to be Lola’s son. And Zoe Kazan is unable to convey the innocence and sexuality embodied in Marie; instead, she comes across as calculated and coy.

originally posted on timessquare.com

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