The Roommate by Jen Silverman and directed by New York-based director, Mike Donahue, is running at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, CT from October 10th- November 4th. This is a play about two middle-aged women coming together from extremely different backgrounds and through adjusting to live with each other, ending up learning a lot about themselves. This play has a lot of potential but falls a little short, despite some engaging performances and great set design.
Sharon (Linda Powell) is divorced and alone after her son left home to become a women’s fashion designer in New York. She is in need of a roommate in her Iowa home. Robyn (Tasha Lawrence) from the Bronx and various other locations, comes to live with Sharon trying to start a new life and escape from her secrets. Powell shows great range in her performance despite not having stronger material to work with. As the two very different women break down each other’s walls, they end up discovering new things about themselves.
One of the most impressive aspects about this production is the impeccable set design by Dane Laffrey. The set feels like a real home with someone actually living in it. The amount of detail is so careful and precise – from what items would be in the kitchen cabinet to what the living room would authentically feel like. There is even depth to the set, with the suggestion of the house extending through a backroom to a second floor. That effect is heightened with the Reza Bahjat’s lighting effect of a stairway coming through that walkway. Behjat also excels in conveying the lighting of cars arriving and exiting.
This play is paced very slowly, especially towards the end. This could have been a choice by Donahue in order to make situations feel more authentic, as if they were in real time. However, it verges on being boring and drawn out. It is definitely a struggle only having two actors and still keeping the play feeling fresh and exciting as it goes on. With only the same two faces for an hour and 40 minutes, there needs to be much more action/drama/conflict for the audience to latch on to; there needs to be more for the audience to either love or hate about these women.
Sharon has a great, albeit unrealistic, character arc. She starts off as nervous and insecure about herself. As she interacts with Robyn, she “finds herself.” She transforms into a completely different woman, which is borderline unbelievable. Nonetheless, Powell does a great job of showing this character development. Anita Yavich, costume designer, succeeds in showing Sharon’s transformation through her clothing with outfits that become more edgy and not as reserved. However, Yavich doesn’t do as much experimenting with Robyn’s costume because she is in the same jeans throughout the whole show.
Donahue delivers a mostly strong performance, but it could have been improved by a quicker pace. There were times when I found myself waiting for the scene to get to the good part because it was very drawn out in certain moments. Also, the audience needs to feel more invested in the characters: do we love Sharon’s transformation or are we turned off by it? Mostly, we don’t care. It’s too bad because together with Laffrey’s spot-on set design, Behjat’s subtle, yet genuine light design, and Stowe Nelson’s believable sound design, it feels as if the audience is sitting outside of Sharon’s home watching through a window. It would have been nice if what went on inside that home was more captivating.
There is still much more “room” for improvement in The Roommate.
Tickets for this show can be found at www.longwharf.org/roommate.