Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Review of The Roommate at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Roommate. It was by Jen Silverman and it was directed by Phylicia Rashad. It was about two middle-aged women, Sharon (Sandra Marquez) and Robyn (Ora Jones), who moved in together and become friends despite their different backgrounds. They end up introducing new concepts into each other's lives. It is about secrets, friendship, and uncertainty. I think this is a really interesting, funny, and surprisingly bittersweet play.

The relationship in this play is very complicated because it is not just a friendship, or a romantic relationship. It is not just a business partnership, or a two-way mentorship. It is all of those things. The play made me uncertain about what person in the relationship was responsible for making it eventually toxic. It seemed like the relationship made each of them more happy, even though they were doing some stupid and hurtful things. So you end up rooting for it. There are not a lot of plays that I have seen that are about middle-aged women building a relationship with each other. I liked how complicated their relationship was and how it showcased how women relate to each other outside of family relationships or relationships centered on a man. At the beginning of the show, Sharon was very scared about letting a new person into her life and into her home that was not from her community, and at first it is really beautiful to see Sharon embracing herself and the things Robyn has introduced to her. And even though it becomes disturbing, it is a very valuable relationship to both of them. I think the playwright is trying to show that it is good to go out of your comfort zone and that the relationship that Robyn and Sharon have is important, even though it might not be the most functional. I liked how it didn't have to be all sappy, like two middle-aged women help each other realize that their lives aren't over. It is empowering--not through sap--but through dark humor and heightened realism.

I really liked the humor in this show. I think it really showed how new both women were to the lifestyles they were entering into. Sharon called her son and told him she smoked her first weed and then immediately realized she didn't mean to do that. I thought that was really funny. She is so used to telling her son every mundane activity she has been doing, that she accidentally told him the one thing she didn't want to tell him. There is a lot of that kind of situational humor in the show, where they are in new situation for them and they don't know how to adapt. Robyn can't adapt to the small-town lifestyle of not feeling like you have to lock your doors at night and she thinks everything Sharon does is old-ladylike. I think they put a twist on the fish-out-of-water humor by making it darker and have larger consequences, and I thought that was really interesting to watch.

I think what is so great about heightened realism is that it keeps you thinking that almost anything could happen, but it still seems to take place in the real world. Robyn and Sharon are both women with children who live in Iowa and got divorced. That seems very normal. But then you discover that they are more complicated than you think. It is fascinating to watch people who seem like they have average lives discover their dark underbellies. You are still in the realm of reality, so you think this is something that can happen in my own life. You understand where the people are coming from because they are in a world you recognize and some of the circumstances are recognizable, but it is exciting to see extreme situations that you probably haven't been in yourself.

People who would like this show are people who like twists on tropes, unexpected friendships, and telling your son you smoked weed. I think this is a surprisingly moving, funny, and inventive melding of genres.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

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