Sunday, October 28, 2018

Review of "The Roommate"

 Most of us have had a roommate at some point in our life, maybe as an incoming college Freshman or when looking for someone to share costs for a just attainable big city apartment.  Roommates are usually for the under 30 age group.  But what about older adults?  What would that be like?  In writer Jenn Silverman’s play, The Roommate, she takes two, early 50’s aged women and weaves together a mildly amusing comedy.

We are introduced to Sharon (Linda Powell), an Iowan homeowner, who takes into her house native New Yorker, Robyn (Tasha Lawrence).  The two divorced women could not be more different in looks, demeanor, and background.  Their tentative relationship quickly develops into a more solid rapport and, finally, friendship.  While their personalities and backgrounds are distinct, they do share some common ground, most notably an unsettled bond with their grown child.  Sharon, introverted, with few interests, becomes enamored with Robyn’s more colorful past and seeks to emulate her exploits, which ends up changing the dynamics of their relationship and, in the end, each other’s lives.

Jen Silverman’s script is mostly entertaining as the contrasts between the two characters is emphasized.  The theme has been reworked for the stage many times before, most notably with Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.  The scenarios and camaraderie between the protagonists feel natural.  The playwright’s ambiguous ending rings true as the audience is left to come up with its own conclusions.  I do quibble with how Sharon’s reactions to Robyn’s New York City roots, sexual orientation, and former “professions” are portrayed.  While humorous, the gasps and incredulousness of Sharon come across as somewhat cliched in today’s world.

The two actresses fully embody their disparate roles.  Linda Powell imbues Sharon with an unadorned poise that, initially, is wide-eyed with a gaping disposition.  As the story develops, she effectively transforms from a somewhat reclusive, directionless persona to someone who develops into a confident woman with a devil-may-care approach to living.  Tasha Lawrence convincingly instills Robyn with an air of mystery and even danger.  The actress displays a well-spring of conflicting emotions and uncertainties, at times hardened and confused as she looks to jumpstart her life.

Director Mike Donahue adroitly keeps the interaction between the characters within the kitchen area of Dane Laffrey’s expansive, detailed set design, which encompasses a spacious, airy kitchen and dining and living rooms.  This affords him the opportunity to focus the audience’s attention on both familiar domestic life rituals, such as the drinking of morning coffee, with the more uncharacteristic conversations and activities the two characters have.  A two-person play is always difficult when it comes to pacing and variations in staging, but the director effectively mixes up the action by introducing an assortment of props and conversations on a land line telephone.

The Roommate, diverting and engaging, playing at Long Wharf through November 4th.

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