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Friday, January 25, 2008

Law & Order's S. Epatha Merkerson Shines in “Come Back Little Sheba” on Broadway

(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
Epatha and Sam at premier of Come Back Little Sheba

The great reviews and positive commentaries are pouring in for S. Epatha Merkerson (Law & Order – Lt. Anita Van Buren) for her performance in the Broadway revival of “Come Back Little Sheba.”

The Wall Street Journal said today
… this deeply moving revival, which stars S. Epatha Merkerson of "Law & Order," is pitch-perfect from curtain to curtain… You wouldn't guess from watching "Law & Order" that Ms. Merkerson is a stage actress of the first rank. She brings Lola's melancholy and yearning to life with such soft-spoken understatement that you feel as though you'd wandered through the back door of her house and sat down at her kitchen table for a chat. Ms. Kazan, who is making her Broadway debut after a pair of buzzworthy performances Off Broadway in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" and "Things We Want," is no less impressive -- she has a knack for blending innocence with sensuality to devastating effect -- and Mr. Anderson, though he looks a bit young to be playing Ms. Merkerson's husband, rises effortlessly to the challenge of the climactic scene in which he falls off the wagon and tells Lola all the things she doesn't want to know.”

The New Jesey Star-Ledger says, “Yet Merkerson, who is on-stage virtually the entire time, had a moment of pure panic during rehearsals in Los Angeles, where the show ran initially. She was suddenly overwhelmed by Lola's childlike behavior, her relentless neediness and immaturity.

"I was in tears, saying 'you've made a huge mistake, you're not going to be able to do this,'" she recalls.

Pressman encouraged her to find the character bit by bit. "The mountain just seemed so big to her at that point," he says.

Merkerson conquered her fear and found her voice by using her upper register instead of the lower, more authoritative tones that she relies on for Van Buren. (Lola only learns to speak that way gradually, toward the end of the play.) Still, this trait remains her biggest challenge: "It's something I have to stay on top of every night." "

USA Today comments, “S. Epatha Merkerson, who stars in the Manhattan Theatre Club's new revival of Come Back, Little Sheba (* * * out of four), is best known for playing another strong-minded gal, police Lt. Anita Van Buren, on TV's Law & Order. But in Sheba, which opened Thursday at the Biltmore Theatre, the veteran actress is equally potent as a relative mouse of a woman.

Playing Lola, the meek, haunted wife of Doc Delaney, a recovering alcoholic, Merkerson delivers a performance of aching sweetness and devastating sadness. It is by no means a flashy star turn; Michael Pressman directs William Inge's classic account of a middle-aged couple grappling with past and present disappointments as an ensemble piece, so that no character or performance feels less than integral to the whole.

But Merkerson's needy, heartbreaking Lola is clearly the emotional core. When we meet her, she recounts one in a series of recurring dreams about the titular Sheba, her beloved dog, who "just vanished one day — vanished into thin air." Sheba's sudden disappearance actually symbolizes various losses, chief among them that of Lola's youth and its promise, and the death of the baby whose conception forced Lola and Doc (from his perspective, at least) into an early marriage.”

And Theatremania.com says, Lastly, Merkerson -- as anyone who has seen her prior work on stage, for 14 seasons as Anita Van Buren on NBC's Law & Order, or in her Emmy Award-winning role in HBO's Lackawanna Blues can attest -- is a performer of uncommon strength and intelligence, attributes that can hardly be applied to Lola. So, it's a testament to Merkerson's consummate skill and smart choices that she basically hits a home run -- or at least a solid triple -- eventually delivering a heartbreaking portrayal of an unhappy, frightened, and almost infantilized woman who must finally grow up and face reality after her alcoholic husband Doc (Kevin Anderson) falls off the wagon again."

There are many more great reviews about Epatha’s performance. One thing is for certain; S. Epatha Merkerson’s talents are getting much deserved attention. We can only hope she gets to show them more often in her role on Law & Order.

Manhattan Theatre Club,
Biltmore Theatre, 261 W. 47th St. ($46.50-$91.50),
212-239-6200/800-432-7250, closes Mar. 16

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Also, see my companion Law & Order site,
All Things Law & Order.

1 comment:


Please take down that photo of S. Epatha & Sam Waterson that was lifted from theatermania.com. I am the copyright holder.
Thank you.
Joseph Marzullo