Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Stranger Comes to Town...

The Roommate
by Jen Silverman
Directed by Becca Wolff
May 23 - July 1, 2017
SF Playhouse

by Christine Okon

A​ ​mysterious​ ​stranger​ ​enters​ ​someone's​ ​life​ ​and​ ​changes​ ​it​ ​forever:​ ​this​ ​is​ ​a familiar, exciting story premise; think of William Inge's Picnic ​or almost any Western. The thrill is in the allure of the unknown, the seductive break from boredom, the last-ditch chance to live the life you were meant to live. It's​ ​the instant​ ​dynamic​ ​of​ ​object​ ​and​ ​force,​ ​of​ ​catalyst​ ​and​ ​inert​ ​substance,​ ​to​ ​effect​ ​change. 

San​ ​Francisco​ ​Playhouse is ending its 2016-2017 season with the one-act play The​ ​Roommate​ ​by​ ​Jen​ ​Silverman​; it's a good choice because it's not about endings but beginnings, about the thrill of "what's next?"

The​ ​Roommate​ ​takes place in a seemingly peaceful and tidy kitchen in a charming house in the middle of "corn cobs and open sky": Somewhere in Iowa. It's Sharon's house, and she seems somewhat lost in the space that has grown too big. Sharon's in her​ ​50's​ ​and​ ​in​ ​a​ ​precarious​ ​transition​ ​from​ ​the​ ​certainty​ ​of​ ​wife​ ​and​ ​mother​ ​to..what? Her​ ​son​ ​has​ ​grown​ ​and​ ​left​ ​home,​ ​but​ ​she​ ​still​ ​clings​ ​to​ ​the​ ​mother-son lifeline through "I just want to see how you're doing" phone calls. 

Sharon (Susi Damilano) and Robyn (Julia Brothers) with the wide Iowa sky as backdrop.
​Susi​ ​Damilano's​ ​Sharon​ ​is​ ​a grown-up good girl who's​ a bit ​​insecure, gabby ​but​ ​not​ ​especially​ ​thoughtful,​ ​as she goes through the motions of daily routine. Sharon is anxiously waiting​ ​for​ ​the person who has answered her ad for a roommate. 
Wide-eyed Sharon (Susi Damilano) makes a phone call to her son.
The renter ​turns​ ​out​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​woman​ ​of a similar age named​ ​Robyn (Julia Brothers)--​slender,​ ​self-assured, worldly,​ ​and​ ​capable​ ​​quite unlike the ​usual​ ​timid​ ​flock​ ​of​ ​book club friends​ that ​Sharon alludes​ ​to.​ ​Robyn is an intriguing mystery: why did move from the Bronx to Iowa? Is she running from or to something? Julia Brothers ​brings​ ​a​ ​self-contained​ ​strength​ ​and​ ​beauty​ ​to​ ​the​ ​vagabond​ ​soul who is seeking a sense of place while barely containing a constant restlessness. 
Robyn (Julia Brothers) and Sharon (Susi Damilano) discuss their plans for their futures.
You​ ​wouldn't​ ​call​ ​Robyn​ ​"nice"​ ​-​ ​but​ ​she​ ​sure​ ​knows​ and has done ​a​ ​lot of things​ ​that​ surprise, shock and thrill Sharon. The best thing about this production is Damilano's and Brothers' electric approach-avoidance dance between the doubt and trust, distance and intimacy, of Sharon and Robyn, unsettling the audience with suspense. This is real acting craft in action.

Emboldened by​ ​the​ ​possibilities​ ​of​ ​danger​ ​​that​ ​Robyn​ describes, Sharon changes before our eyes, perhaps too quickly to be believable.​ Still, it's fun to see her gain confidence, moving from a cautious "Do​ ​you​ ​think​ ​I​ ​could?"​ ​to a delighted ​"I’d​ ​be​ ​good​ ​at​ ​that."  
Sharon on the brink of change
Although​ ​Sharon​ ​seems​ ​to​ ​want​ ​a​ ​stronger​ ​connection​ ​with​ ​Robyn,​ ​perhaps​ ​friendship​ ​and​ ​even love, she learns one's personal journey is about movement, not stasis.

Silverman's script is adequate but contains some expositional cliched devices such as a long voice message left "on the machine" by Sharon's son, who is never seen, plus some setups with no payoff such as Amanda, Robyn's estranged daughter. The set was functional although the side porch full of boxes was a distracting imbalance. The innovative lighting of the white cloud-bright blue Iowa sky that later reveals a night of stars is innovative and very effective. Costumes were a lot of fun, especially as Sharon explores the different looks she discovers while snooping in Robyn's things.

But again, it is the wonderful interplay of Damilano and Brothers that brings the parallel journeys of the two vastly different characters to life.

The talented creative staff and cast.

The Roommate
by Jen Silverman
SF Playhouse

Julia Brothers

Susi Damilano

Creative Staff
Jen Silverman

Becca Wolff

Robert Hand

Theodore J.H. Hulsker

Melissa Trn

Jacquelyn Scott

Lauren English

Sarah Selig

Photos by Jessica Palopoli

SF Playhouse
450 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
415.677.9596 fax 415.677.9597

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