By all accounts, Shirley Booth was a heartbreaker as Lola, wife to an alcoholic husband named Doc, in the original Broadway production and its later film version; she won a Tony Award and and an Oscar for her work.
Now, Tony Award nominee S. Epatha Merkerson (The Piano Lesson), known for her work as a matter-of-fact lieutenant in TV's "Law & Order," plays lonely Lola, stuck in a marriage that perhaps should never have happened, with apparently nowhere to turn. Merkerson's tentative eyes are always looking to Doc (played by Tony nominee Kevin Anderson) with the expectation that he will fall off the wagon and bring chaos into their shabby Midwestern home.
Manhattan Theatre Club produces the first Broadway revival of the play by the Kansas native Inge (1913-1973), who chronicled quiet desperation and modest dreams in the Midwestern-set plays Picnic, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs and Bus Stop.
Performances began Jan. 3. Michael Pressman directs a cast that also includes Zoe Kazan (100 Saints You Should Know, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) as Marie, the young boarder who triggers something in Doc; Lyle Kanouse (Big River) as the Postman; Brian Smith (Fabulous Life of Size Zero) as Turk, Marie's strapping lover; Brenda Wehle (Pygmalion) as neighbor Mrs. Coffman; Matthew J. Williamson ("Boston Legal") as a beefy Milkman; Joseph Adams (A View From The Bridge) as Elmo, one of two Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors; Chad Hoeppner (Butley) as Bruce, Marie's marriage-material beau; Daniel Damon Joyce (Urban Cowboy) as Messenger; and Keith Randolph Smith (A Midsummer Night's Dream) as Ed, another A.A. lifeline for Doc.
The company also features understudies Joseph Adams, Phillip Clark, Caroline Stephanie Clay and Darrie Lawrence. Anderson is known for Broadway's Death of a Salesman (for which he was Tony-nominated in 1999), Orpheus Descending and Brooklyn.
Pressman directed an earlier spring 2007 incarnation in Los Angeles. Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner Merkerson also starred in that previous run at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Merkerson was nominated for a Lortel Award for F**king A, a Tony and Drama Desk for The Piano Lesson, and won an Obie Award for I'm Not Stupid and Birdie Blue. Her work in TV's "Lackawanna Blues" earned her Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG, Image and Gracie Allen awards. On "Law & Order," she has played Lt. Anita Van Buren for 14 seasons.
Here's how MTC bills Come Back, Little Sheba: "Lola (Merkerson) is a faded beauty queen trapped in a lonely marriage to Doc (Anderson), a recovering alcoholic on the brink of relapse. When a pretty young woman (Kazan) becomes a boarder in their cluttered Midwest home, their lives are unsettled as unspoken passions rise to the surface. As the emptiness of their marriage is laid bare, can they find their way back to each other or will they be undone? This new look at William Inge's great American story is an absorbing tale of lost hopes and unfulfilled promise, told with unflinching honesty and heartbreaking power."
The creative team includes James Noone (scenic design), Jennifer von Mayrhauser (costume design), Jane Cox (lighting design), Obadiah Eaves (sound design), Peter Golub (original music) and J. David Brimmer (fight director).
Tickets for the limited run are currently on sale through March 16.
The Biltmore is located at 261 West 47th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. For information about MTC, which also operates two theatres Off-Broadway, visit www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com.
For tickets visit or call Telecharge.com at (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250.
Come Back, Little Sheba played 190 performances on Broadway in 1950. Sidney Blackmer won a Best Actor Tony Award for playing Doc. In the film, Burt Lancaster played Doc. A musical version (music by Clint Ballard, book and lyrics by Lee Goldsmith) has not found a wide life, but a 2002 recording of the score was released, featuring Donna McKechnie as Lola.