Jen Silverman’s Alarmingly-Introduced ROOMMATE at Everyman

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Jen Silverman’s Alarmingly-Introduced ROOMMATE at Everyman

Posted on BroadwayWorld.com October 31, 2016

Beth Hylton and Deborah Hazlett

Beth Hylton and Deborah Hazlett

I can’t think of another show as hard as Jen Silverman‘s The Roommate to discuss without diving deep into spoilers. This new dramatic comedy, just in at Everyman (apparently in its fourth production, the first having been at last year’s Humana Festival) is built on surprises, both of plot and character, and talking about the plot as a reviewer ordinarily would would do serious harm to those surprises. As a matter of fact, I’m also going to omit the customary list of things at the end which would make the show inadvisable for young or sensitive playgoers. (I’ll simply say that middle school is about the cutoff for appropriate audiences – and that may be stretching it a bit.)

The setup explains much of the problem talking about the play. In its first moments, we are given to understand that we are watching two characters, one of whom we quickly know a lot about, while we know next to nothing – nothing reliable, anyway – about the other. The apparent known quantity is Sharon (Deborah Hazlett), a sort of Lake Wobegon Lutheran type, an Iowan in her fifties, her husband gone and her son living off in New York. Sharon needs a roommate in her huge house (a nicely-detailed set by Timothy Mackabee) to help ends meet and diminish her loneliness. The almost unknown at the start is the brand-new roommate, Robyn (Beth Hylton), whose work, history, sexuality, and name are all obscure to start with, and to the extent provided at all, unconvincingly so.

The play consists primarily of the process by which these two very different women become more honestly and sometimes alarmingly acquainted, an acquaintance that changes them both. Think of it as The Odd Couple meets Il Sorpasso meets Thelma and Louise. And that’s all I’m going to say about plot and character.

But I can praise the show and the production. Regular Everyman-goers know Hazlett and Hylton well. These veteran members of the Everyman repertory group have been sharing the stage for years, and display an easy rapport that new-to-this-venue director Johanna Gruenhut does nothing to disturb. For Hazlett and Hylton to elicit laughter from an audience in a funny show is truly like taking candy from a baby. And even when you can see some of the risible situations coming from a long way off, you’re going to laugh. The pathos – and there is some, amidst the laughter – will go down easier because the overall setting is so much fun.

That pathos may distinguish The Roommate from, say, the unrepentantly unserious Blithe Spirit, recently also staged at Everyman (with Hylton as Elvira), but not by very much. This is not a show about big issues; the pathos comes from the human condition, to the basic facts of which the play is usually true, even when operating as a well-tooled laughter-delivery-vehicle. If there can be said to be a moral to Silverman’s story, it is simply that it is extremely hard to become close to someone, and even harder to stay close. A good thing to be reminded of, and especially in such an amusing way.

Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn, except for production photo. Photo credit: Stan Barouh.

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