‘Sheba’ plays the race card

Davison, Merkerson to star as couple

Bruce Davison is set to join S. Epatha Merkerson in the Center Theater Group’s “Come Back, Little Sheba” as a couple trapped in a hapless, 25-year marriage — that’s now an interracial marriage as well.

Michael Pressman will direct the William Inge play at the CTG’s Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City. Pressman told Daily Variety that he believes this production of the play will be the first time in which a white man and black woman have been cast in the lead roles.

Davison will play alcoholic chiropractor Doc, whose long marriage to Merkerson’s Lola is shaken when the childless couple takes in a young femme boarder. The role of the young woman has not been cast.

Pressman said he selected Davison and Merkerson because they are strong actors, not because of race. Feeling the rarely revived ’50s Midwest drama is not about color but about characters, Pressman said the interracial “casting doesn’t change the play; in fact, it makes it more universal, more timely.

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“I believe the play is about courage and love and overcoming addiction, the need of two people to survive together,” he said.

After a successful Broadway run in 1950, “Come Back, Little Sheba” was made into a 1952 film starring Burt Lancaster, Shirley Booth (who won an Oscar for her perf) and Terry Moore (nommed for an Oscar).

Merkerson, who stars in NBC’s “Law & Order,” won Tony and Drama Desk noms for her perf in August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson.”

Davison can be seen in the film “Breach,” with Chris Cooper. He has a recurring role on the CBS drama “Close to Home.”

Pressman directs both theater and TV, including episodes of “The Closer” and “Law & Order.”

“Sheba” is the final production of the Douglas Theater’s 2006-07 season. Previews begin June 17, with the show opening June 24. The play replaces the world preem of David Mamet’s musical “A Waitress in Yellowstone,” which has been rescheduled for next season.