Currently at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre Jen Silverman’s so-so two-hander, “The Roommate”, works better than it has any right to and it is primarily because of the casting. When you only have two roles to fill, you better make sure you are in good hands and, at Long Wharf, those actors are Tasha Lawrence and Linda Powell. They deserve most of the credit for any amount of pleasure you take from Silverman’s tepid comic drama.
When divorced Iowa country mouse Sharon (Powell) advertises for a roommate, tough Bronx city mouse Robyn (Lawrence) moves in setting the stage for a familiar odd-couple relationship. Sharon is immediately attracted to the mysterious Robyn who identifies as lesbian and arrives with a stash of fake driver licenses among her possessions. In addition, there’s the estranged daughter she doesn’t want to discuss and a box of plaster molds she’s anxious to ditch. To reveal more would spoil the not-very-surprising surprises that Silverman concocts. But the best thing about this play, in addition to the polished and likable performances, would be that its heroines are women of a certain age, and it’s an age that gets little attention in the theatre and even less on movie screens these days.
Both actors, under the direction of Mike Donahue, bring huge reserves of personal chemistry to make their questionable characters understandable. This study of loneliness and female friendship will no doubt strike a chord even as Silverman spins her plot towards the incredulous. Lawrence’s woman of mystery is someone we are immediately drawn to making the case for Sharon’s intense interest. In the livelier role, Powell’s Sharon is sheer delight as she begins to spread her wings and revel in the joys of larceny even as Silverman’s writing strains to give her a voice that isn’t always convincing.
The expansive, well-appointed kitchen/porch setting is impressively designed by Dane Laffrey, but it is far more elaborate than needed with the actors seeming to use only half the space. One wonders if the theatre’s more intimate Stage II would have been a better choice for this particular play. Anita Yavich’s costumes nicely delineate the characters especially while tracking the blossoming of Sharon and Reza Behjat’s lighting works just as well. Silverman is a talented writer whose grimly funny play, “The Moors”, had a splendid rendering at Yale Rep two seasons ago. But she seems to be recycling old material in “The Roommate” with a strong reliance on the cliché of the square innocent being led astray by the hip hooligan. And having Sharon basically explain the “moral” of the story to herself in the play’s final scene seems to me the definition of lazy writing.
“The Roommate” continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through November 4. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.