“The Roommate” at Long Wharf Is Hard to Define

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Tasha Lawrence and Linda Powell. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

By Karen Isaacs

 I wish I knew what playwright Jen Silverman intended with her new play, The Roommate now at Long Wharf through Sunday, Nov. 4.

It seems to follow somewhat in the footsteps of her earlier play The Moors which I thoroughly enjoyed at Yale Rep. That play was a mashup/satire of the novels of the Bröntes and other gothic romance writers of the period.

But this piece is harder to define. Yes, it descends into absurdity and seems to be somewhat a parody of the usual sit com set up: two people basically strangers living together. But is it meant to be more? Is something else intended?

It’s hard to describe the plot without giving too much away, since the success of the piece depends on the surprises and unexpected twists.

In Iowa City (there are several jokes about Iowa), Sharon has taken in a new roommate (Robyn) who has just arrived from New York City. Sharon is naïve – or perhaps clueless – to an extreme. When asked if she works, she replies, “I’m retired from my marriage.” She calls her adult son who lives in NYC constantly though he seldom picks up; she has never considered the idea that he may be gay, after all when she visited he introduced her to a “date” who was a lesbian. She has apparently no friends, no hobbies, no real life. Why she is willing to share her house and why she selected Robyn to be the roommate is a mystery.

Robyn is also a mystery; why is she moving to a small town in the mid-West? But we quickly sense that Robyn and Sharon are like oil and water. Robyn is amazed by Sharon’s naiveté; she seems to want privacy- not the companion that Sharon was perhaps looking for. She smokes – not just cigarettes but marijuana! In fact, she even brought her own plants.

After a revelation – and later others – the two seem almost to swap roles. Sharon becomes adventurous and daring; Robyn seems more conventional.

But the transformation of Sharon is carried to such an extreme that all plausibility is lost. It may be funny to see Sharon react to her first inhalation of marijuana, but like much in this play, it goes too far, for too long.

Silverman also relies too much on the telephone to convey messages. Every time Sharon calls her son, she leaves a long message that is obviously intended as much for the audience as for him. Silverman and the director both have taken the easy way out. When Robyn moves in, boxes are piled by the door. Though they live together weeks or more, those boxes are never moved until they suddenly disappear, announcing Robyn’s departure.

Director Mike Donahue has helped the two performers get all the laughs that are in the piece, usually about Sharon’s lack of worldliness or her misconceptions about NYC and other things.

Tasha Lawrence as Robyn and Linda Powell as Sharon are both very good, working as hard as possible to make the implausible seem possible. Yet, in the end one wonders if the audience ever truly cares about either of these middle-aged women whose lives are being turned upside down.

Silverman seems to focus her works on women and she could bring a unique perspective to their lives; in this piece her mixture of absurdity and reality don’t blend well.

For tickets visit  Long Wharf or call 800-782-8497.

This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zipo6.com.

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