Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 3, 2017

The Roomate

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 16, 2017
by Jarice Hanson

Photo by Daniel Rader
Hartford-born playwright Jen Silverman has a knack for matching dialog to regional culture and in exploring the challenges of middle-age. “The Roommate,” which is one of her newest plays, features a female odd-couple who seem to have nothing in common until they try to live together and find out they can help each other escape the lives they’ve accepted as “normal.” 

This production features two extraordinary actresses known to many from their iconic television portrayals, but each is cast against “type.” S. Epatha Merkerson, known to many as Lt. Van Buren from “Law & Order,” plays Sharon, an Iowa housewife who leads a staid life until Robyn, a rebellious woman from the Bronx, comes to share her home. Jane Kaczmarek, known to many as the mom from the television series “Malcolm in the Middle” plays Robyn, the “bad girl” laying low in Sharon’s Iowa home.  Though both actresses have extensive theatre, television, and film credentials, watching them together on stage is a treat. The electricity they generate is palpable, and their professional (and personal) generosity toward each other enhances the growing relationship their characters project.

Director Mike Donohue has helmed several of Silverman’s earlier plays, including the world premiere of “The Roommate” in 2015, but his talent lies in balancing the elements of the play that people can relate to, like motherhood and social isolation, with the exaggerated comedy of the situations that ensue as two very different women meet and explore friendship and survival. The juxtaposition of the real and comic situations prompt the audience to laugh loud and laugh often, but the message of the play is also more than that of a staged sit-com. It is a respectful nod to the need to continually challenge one’s self and cope with change. And even better, it is a respectful look at women in their ‘50’s who can be desperate, fun, sexy, and adventurous—all at the same time.  

“The Roommate” is the first of Williamstown’s Main Stage productions, and it sets a high bar for the rest of the season. One can only hope that Jen Silverman continues to write with such feeling and compassion, and that these two delightful actresses will be back again.