By Jody Key — Managing Editor
With mortgage and rental rates at an all-time high, it’s fairly common these days to see rooms for rent as home owners work to make ends meet. Aurora Theatre’s latest offering, THE ROOMMATE which plays until October 20th, provides an inside look at two middle-aged women at the start of their relationship as roommates and the mayhem that ensues when their lives intersect.
THE ROOMMATE a thought provoking dark comedy by Jen Silverman is a one-act study in the malleability of personality and the impression another person can make. When Sharon, a divorced Iowan, takes out an ad for a roommate, Robyn, a free spirit from the Bronx, answers the ad. Sharon is naive and at a crossroads in her life. She’d lived her life as a mother and housewife, but her son has since moved to New York, and she and her husband have called it quits. She leads a quiet life, not leaving the house much except to do the shopping and attend her “reading group” once a week. Robyn is a bold, confident woman with a sketchy past. She heads to Iowa with the intent of turning over a new leaf and leaving parts of her past behind.
The scenic design by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay depicts a typical Mid-American kitchen with an attached service porch. Entryways lead off to respective bedrooms and are adorned with stained-glass eyebrow windows which add a nice splash of color. Above and behind the set is a blue sky with a few clouds which changes hue to subtly emphasize time of day. The static set doesn’t limit the characters and their actions are well directed by David Kote. Several costume changes help to reference the passage of time, and costume designer Emmie Phelps-Thompson chose pieces that complimented the characters’ personalities and body types.
As Sharon and Robyn negotiate where to put things like food and dishes, they begin to get to know each other and find they are radically different. Sharon discovers Robyn is gay and eventually finds out Robyn also grows and smokes her own marijuana, which she calls “medicinal herbs”. When Sharon discovers a box full of fake IDs among Robyn’s belongings, she probes Robyn about her past. Sharon is enthralled with Robyn’s description of her past dealings in selling pot and phone scamming, and she asks Robyn to teach her the tricks of the trade. What happens next ensues in both ladies running scams and selling pot, yet moves toward role reversal as Sharon becomes more immersed in the dealings that Robyn is trying to get away from.
Terry Burrell makes her Aurora debut as Sharon, and audiences are in for a treat as she has many Broadway credits to her name. Her portrayal of the displaced, nosy, and lonely urban housewife is the perfect blend of giddy little girl enthusiasm at getting to know her new roommate and adult frustration and disappointment at not hearing from or seeing her son as often as she’d like. Burrell takes what on the surface could end up looking like a shallow character and adds a complexity that scratches the surface and delves deep into her psyche.
Suzi Bass winner Megan McFarland as the edgy Robyn is brassy and no-nonsense. She knows who she is and what she wants, and makes no excuses. Megan brings an authentic likability to the character that is essential to audience buy-in. Robyn would like to give up her life of crime in order to reconnect with her estranged daughter, yet finds Sharon’s enthusiasm appealing and soon finds herself traveling down a path she knows all too well. McFarland’s character transition from aloof and uncaring about those she takes advantage of to someone with a conscience who cares about the people around her is smooth and self-assured.
The dialogue and action are well paced, and both ladies deliver humorous performances which account for laugh-out-loud moments throughout the production with a twist at the end. If you haven’t yet seen THE ROOMMATE, there’s still time to get tickets in its final week.