Adobe Rose Theatre, Feb. 23
The rising playwright Jen Silverman has attracted attention for works that are up-to-date in their stance toward inclusiveness and gender fluidity. The thirty-something author can already look back on productions at Yale Repertory Theatre, The Playwrights Realm (New York), and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park — plus she has a collection of stories out from Random House this spring and a novel contracted to follow. Her play The Roommate was introduced by Actors Theatre of Louisville in 2015 and since then has been staged at South Coast Repertory (Costa Mesa, California), San Francisco Playhouse, and the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Adobe Rose Theatre is now presenting this two-woman show to Santa Feans in a clearly conceived and cleanly executed production directed by David Sinkus.
Adobe Rose benefits from a performing space than can be set up to place the audience in various perspectives vis-à-vis the stage. In this case, Sinkus keeps things simple, with the audience on risers on one side of the room looking straight-on toward the ground-level stage. There’s nothing fancy to distract from the essential drama — it’s just a roomy but unassuming kitchen in an Iowa home, which Gene Mederos has designed to mix the realistic with the allusive; cupboards, for example, are represented just by their doors, mounted on a framework behind them. Lighting (by Dylan Norman) highlights the action effectively, and costumes (by Talia Pura) do their job in underscoring the evolution of the two women and their relationship to each other.
Some mystery inhabits Silverman’s characters, both of whom are in their fifties and at points where their lives are taking a turn. Sharon (played by Lisa Foster) is a recently divorced Midwesterner who, it seems, has never strayed an inch from the straight and narrow. Financial circumstances dictate that she share her home with a roommate, Robyn, who arrives from New York City with lots of boxes and a past she doesn’t want to discuss. As the play unrolls, it becomes clear that some of that past involved criminal activity, but that she is intent on starting afresh. We aren’t made privy to a great deal of background to either woman’s life, and Silverman tells the tale in a way that leaves a viewer questioning its veracity on the grounds of unlikely coincidences and suspect chronology. Her point seems clear, though: Whatever evil there was will continue to be, but it may migrate about to manifest itself first in one person, then another.
Danielle Louise Reddick scored an unqualified success in her nuanced portrayal of Robyn, whom she conveys as overwhelmingly likeable yet with an undercurrent of menace. Silverman has spoken with pride about how The Roommate provides roles for female actors who have passed the ingénue stage of their careers. Reddick’s character has clearly lived a tough life that has been far from admirable in certain ways, and she has the audience’s sympathy as she begins this new chapter. Here, one feels her pain and her triumph — and yet, can she really be trusted? Lisa Foster, as Sharon, draws more liberally on caricature than one might wish in her portrayal of a Midwestern housewife who, in this reading, seems more sheltered from the world outside than would seem credible, given that the play is set in the present. Her depiction might have benefited from an occasional loosening of the tension that was her defining personality trait.
At 95 minutes without an intermission, the play is a long sit. Silverman might be well advised to tighten it through a rewrite. One scene in particular, involving a gun, is gratuitous, and other excisions could probably reduce the running time to the 80-minute point, which is about where I found myself checking my watch. But Silverman is decidedly a playwright we’ll want to watch. Theater aficionados will have an opportunity to sample her work again in short order, when Fusion, a theater company in Albuquerque, presents her play The Moors, opening this Thursday, March 8, for a two-and-a-half-week run. Silverman’s website describes that piece in Brontesque terms: “Two sisters and a dog live out their lives on the bleak English moors, and dream of love and power. The arrival of a hapless governess and a moor-hen set all three on a strange and dangerous path. The Moors is a dark comedy about love, desperation, and visibility.”
We are greatly relieved to see Adobe Rose’s season underway. The company’s long silence had us worried, but now that it has set the year’s offerings in motion it will continue with two further productions (not counting rentals): Nick Payne’s Constellations in March and Brian Friel’s much-produced Dancing at Lughnasa in May. — James M. Keller
“The Roommate” continues through March 11 at Adobe Rose Theatre, 1213-B Parkway Drive.