PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 19-25: Sheba Comes Back

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 19-25: Sheba Comes Back It's not everyday a play's reputation is revived. And, so, the Manhattan Theatre Club's new production of William Inge's breakout play Come Back, Little Sheba — lauded as a seminal human drama when it debuted, but long since relegated to the realm of creaky period pieces — ranks as an event of some note.
S. Epatha Merkerson in Come Back, Little Sheba.
S. Epatha Merkerson in Come Back, Little Sheba. Photo by Joan Marcus

Director Michael Pressman, making his Broadway debut, cast "Law & Order" star S. Epatha Merkerson in the role of Lola Delaney, the frumpy house frau trapped in a marriage saturated with regret and emptiness. Kevin Anderson plays Doc, her husband, who gave up most of his ambitions when he married the pregnant Lola.

While not all of the critics were wholly convinced that Inge's work had been underrated all these years, many said the play breathed anew in the quiet new production. Most applauded was Merkerson, who was said to do much with the lonely role while seeming to do nothing.

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Off-Broadway, critics took a look at the first stage effort of screenwriter Ethan Coen, a trio of one-acts called Almost an Evening at the Atlantic Theatre Company's 99-seat Atlantic Stage 2 space. Reviews generally agreed that the title of the show was appropriate, noting that the short plays were on the modest side. Still, the themes and humor were dark in the Coenesque manner, and the acting fine, leading reviewers to conclude that there was some entertainment and pleasure to be had here.

*** Live Nation finally sold off most of its North American theatre business this week. Key Brand Entertainment was the buyer. The British company Key Brand Entertainment, snatched up the Broadway Across America touring network, the leading presenter of touring live theatre throughout North America, as well as eight theaters that Live Nation leased or managed in Minneapolis, Boston, Baltimore and Toronto, and the Canadian arm of the touring business. Cost: $90.4 million. Key Brand is run by John Gore, a British producer, and Thomas B. McGrath, a American former vice president of the Viacom Entertainment Group. The company plans to develop new works for the theatre.

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The Color Purple — the Broadway musical based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker which, despite tepid reviews, converted itself into a hit with a little help from Oprah Winfrey — will play its final performance Feb. 24 at the Broadway Theatre, producers announced this week.

The musical by director by Gary Griffin, a Chicagoan largely untested in Broadway waters, featured a score by the equally unfamiliar-in-NYC-circles pop writers Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. But none of that mattered when Winfrey, who earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Sofia in the 1985 Steven Spielberg film of the book, agreed to serve as presenting producer of the musical. With the talk show host's blessing, the show found a healthy audience, particularly among African-Americans. The Broadway production recouped its $11 million investment within its first year on Broadway, and has grossed over $103,000,000 to date.

The national tour of the show is currently schedule to run through 2009, with engagements in Tempe, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

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Finally, it's the early '60s all over again. Playwright Edward Albee will get to relive his past when he directs The American Dream and The Sandbox, two of his early one-acts, at the Cherry Lane Theatre March 11-April 19.

Both productions will feature Tony Award winner Judith Ivey and Drama Desk Award winner Myra Carter. The American Dream premiered at The Cherry Lane in 1961, when Albee was known primarily as one-act writer with absurdist tendencies. Sandbox debuted the next year at the same place.

The cast of <i>The Color Purple.</i>
The cast of The Color Purple. Photo by Paul Kolnik
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