Lyric Stage's "Roommate": Whines of a Certain Vintage

Adrianne Krstansky & Paula Plum in "The Roommate"
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

The Roommate, a two-hander by playwright Jen Silverman now being produced by Lyric Stage Company, portrays the complications of sharing one's space with another human being. It's the story of Sharon (Paula Plum), a middle-aged divorcee in (financial) need of a roommate to share her Iowa home. On her doorstep arrives a woman who might provide more than mere company, but also the potential fulfillment of more than this financial need, Robyn (Adrianne Krstansky), a leather-clad lesbian poet from the Bronx whose own needs prove to include a place to hide, as well as an opportunity to start over with her life. While sharing books and music, Sharon uncovers a few secrets held by Robyn as well as her own deep-seated desire to transform herself. These two mismatched (and more than a bit stereotypical) combatants have decidedly differing views on many aspects of their respective herstories. Where Robyn declares “all first poems are bad, but there's a great liberty in being bad”, Sharon opines that “everybody wants to start over, just burn it and start over”.

The women both tend to bitch and moan, sometimes about mutual complaints, sometimes not. Sharon, at first seemingly unimaginative, turns out to have submerged idiosyncrasies of her own that entice her with the concept of being Robyn's “accomplice” if Robyn shares much of her past with her. As opposed to many characterizations of women of a certain vintage and their whines that are typically presented on stages today, these feel like real people, truly complex women who aren't dependent on the presence of any male influence for their own validation. Though they are fundamentally mismatched initially, with Sharon living in stasis and Robyn ever transforming herself, they share a common escape mechanism of putting up barriers that each is reluctant to disassemble. As Silverman has described it, at the most basic level they share feelings of being alone, dissatisfied and even angry, as they face the question of whether a human can truly change and reinvent herself, and to what degree can she do so? What evolves is a subversive tragicomedy about what it means to attempt to rewrite your life and what happens if the effort goes awry. In a brief ninety minutes, Silverman, who has described her play as “naturalism on speed”, manages to convey a wealth of pithy observations, even though they may not be fully developed or realized.

Paula Plum & Adrianne Krstansky in "The Roommate"
(photo: Mark S. Howard) 

Thankfully, with players of a certain vintage and professionalism, talent and experience save the day (and the play). The perils of Paula Plum and Adrianne Krstansky are expertly shown and met with passion that is ultimately transformative, primarily for the better-written character of Sharon. There are funny lines well-delivered, especially by Paula, having found yet another plum role. They are ably directed by the company's Producing Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos, with appropriately fussy Scenic Design by Jenna McFarland Lord and Costume Design by Tobi Renaldi, as well as Lighting Design by Chris Hudacs, and Sound Design and Original Music by Dewey Dellay.

There is a basic question underlying all of this: interestingly, the play is titled The Roommate rather than The Roommates. What are we to make of that? Perhaps the answer is in the fact that Sharon, though the homeowner, is the one more affected by her change in status from a solo to a duet, and the message from this profoundly cynical work is that the worst addiction is breaking bad. As Sharon puts it near the end of the play as she searches for a word to best describe herself, “it's a good word, but no longer right”. She ends up as the one who has been changed. It's about finding that “great liberty in being bad.”

This formidable twosome will be in combat through November 18th.

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