Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 33 / 17 August 2017
 

Stimulated in the flyovers

Theatre


Julia Brothers, left, and Susi Damilano play unlikely housemates in Jen Silverman's "The Roommate," now at San Francisco Playhouse. Photo: Jessica Palopoli
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Many of us grew up around someone your parents identified as "a bad influence." You may have even been the bad influence that the other parents were talking about. In Jen Silverman's "The Roommate," the influencer is a divorced middle-aged woman, and the influenced is another divorced middle-aged woman. Or so it seems until the roles are reversed.

San Francisco Playhouse is presenting the Bay Area premiere of "The Roommate," and also the introduction to the shining-on-the-horizon young playwright. "The Roommate" is not without its swerves but holds closer to the middle of the road than many of Silverman's more off-the-wall or in-your-face plays. There are spikes, both comedic and dramatic, but director Becca Wolff's production and its performances don't heat up "The Roommate" much beyond a temperate setting on Nina Ball's tidy kitchen-table set.

Yet even in its simmering moods, "The Roommate" sustains engagement through its intermissionless 100 minutes, often through odd-couple comedy, and then through an unfolding series of secrets and their consequences. Both Sharon, an Iowa homemaker who has advertised for a roommate, and Robyn, a hip refugee from the Bronx, are in the throes of mid-life crises of very different sorts, and together they find both balm and breakage.

When Robyn casually lets drop that she is gay, Sharon tries to demonstrate her sophistication in such matters. "Some of my son's friends are homosexual people," she says. And when the vegan Robyn pulls a carton of almond milk from the refrigerator, Sharon recoils as if the box had a skull and crossbones on it. Their bonding begins with a lazy theatrical device: the pot-smoking Robyn gets Sharon stoned for the first time.

Susi Damilano and Julia Brothers are fine as the fledgling roommates, with Brothers bringing more nuance to what are both relatively understated performances. This is truer in the earlier scenes, with Damilano then finding brighter sparks as Sharon becomes intrigued – even stimulated – as she drags facts about a disreputable past from a reluctant Robyn. The notion of being another Thelma and Louise, albeit while maintaining membership in her book club and not neglecting the chores, becomes a false intoxicant for Sharon.

As disparate as Sharon and Robyn are, they share a deeply rooted regret in different levels of estrangement from their grown children. But Robyn does have a piercingly cynical philosophy on the subject. When Sharon frets that she doesn't think her son even likes her, Robyn replies, "Our children don't have to like us. They just have to live long enough to become us."

 

"The Roommate" will run at San Francisco Playhouse through July 1. Tickets are $20-$125. Call (415) 677-9596 or go to sfplayhouse.org.

 






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