by Jen Silverman
Directed by Becca Wolff
May 23 - July 1, 2017
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.|
by Jen Silverman
Theodore J.H. Hulsker
SOUND AND PROJECTIONS DESIGNER
Photos by Jessica Palopoli
450 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
415.677.9596 fax 415.677.9597