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We Heart Newly Minted Broadway Star S. Epatha Merkerson

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At last night’s premiere of Manhattan Theatre Club’s revival of Come Back, Little Sheba, star S. Epatha Merkerson — who at that point in the evening barely suspected that she was about to be crowned the theater star of the moment by the Times’ Ben Brantley — spoke intelligently and sensitively about her character, the sad, chatty fifties housewife Lola. Well, she spoke to another reporter, but that reporter had neither a tape recorder nor a notebook so we’re taking it upon ourselves to report what the onetime Tony nominee (and, now, likely Tony winner) had to say. “You know I always play really strong women,” said Merkerson, best known for her no-nonsense role on Law & Order. “Lola is not that. It was a real challenge for me to find a woman who is childlike and vulnerable and so different from me.” (Indeed, director Michael Pressman described Merkerson as “boisterous” with “a foul mouth — nothing comes out clean.”)

How, she was asked, is this show different from past productions of William Inge’s drama? “We’re looking at it now with 21st-century eyes,” Merkerson said after a moment’s thought. “You know we have Oprah, we have Dr. Phil, we talk about alcoholism, we talk about menopause and depression. These are things that we know now. So we have this new vocabulary that Lola perhaps didn’t have. AA was only fifteen years old when this play was written. So we have a new vocabulary.” She mused a bit more on how Lola’s life might’ve changed if she lived in the present day. “Perhaps Lola would have gone to a shelter for battered women,” she said. “Perhaps she would have been in Al Anon meetings to have a better understanding. Perhaps she would have been in therapy. Who knows?” Who knows indeed? Is it gushy to say how nice it was that a star spent a long time thinking about, and responding to, serious questions about her character? Let us gush a little, then. —Amy Odell

So Quiet You Can Hear a Heart Stop [NYT]

We Heart Newly Minted Broadway Star S. Epatha Merkerson