(St. Petersburg, FL) March 16, 2019 – Cagney and Lacey. Thelma and Louise. Lucy and Ethel. These famous female friendships are well-known and beloved for their loyalty, trust, and unconditional support for each other. Their sisterly bonds are immortalized in the canon of television and cinematic history. Playwright Jen Silverman attempts to accomplish this feat with “The Roommate,” which has been making the theatrical rounds across the country, such as Actor’s Theatre of Louisville Humana, SF Playhouse, South Coast Repertory (my old stomping grounds), and is now making its Tampa Bay Area premiere at American Stage. Sadly, Silverman’s underdeveloped story ruins the St. Pete’s theatre’s chances of maintaining its perfect 2018-19 season.
Fifty-something Sharon (Annie Fitzpatrick) is not a happy camper. Divorced and a mother of a son who doesn’t respect her, she longs for change, excitement, and growth. She places an ad for a roommate to fill the empty space in her Iowa home. Enter Robyn (Amy Resnick), a street-wise bohemian who is a jack of all trades: pottery, slam poetry, fraud and growing weed. She has skeletons in her closet and Sharon is determined to strike a friendship with this enigmatic woman, leading her to be transformed in unpredictable ways.
The good news is Silverman does not fall into that new wave of “Theatrical Texting,” a writing style that is a detriment to drama and cinema; visit here and here for detailed explanations with regard to this trend. Her pacing is natural and succinct where it needs to be, and her monologues are patient and thought-provoking…for Sharon, at least. Silverman indicated in an interview that “The Roommate” was an opportunity to write a two-character play. And she is somewhat successful. The problem is Robyn. We don’t know much about her as we do with Sharon. She’s guarded, intense, and has a dry sense of humor, but Robyn’s past regarding her ex-husband and daughter is criminally neglected, compared to the complex psychological layers of her roommate. It’s like watching a teeter-totter with only one person participating in the game. And because of this lack of character development, the pacing of the production drags and. Another serious flaw is Sharon’s awkwardness to Robyn being a lesbian. The dialogue is overcompensating, wooden and awkward, very much to what screenwriter Nick Schenk did with two Clint Eastwood films: the mediocre “Grand Torino” and the disastrous “The Mule.” Both writers try to add blunt commentary to their works, resulting in an experience that feels more like watching a poorly lectured social studies class.
Fitzpatrick does a phenomenal job with Sharon, incorporating a mixture of jubilant energy, deep-seated repression, and a slow-burning edge of corruption the longer she is exposed to Robyn’s criminal activities. Her comic-timing is flawless, especially since she has a majority of the funniest lines in the play. Resnick’s Robyn is extremely problematic. A talented actress, she does capture the wounded nature of Robyn, but she shows extreme difficulty handling her character’s incomplete persona. And her methods of expressing Robyn’s nature are puzzling. She over-exaggerates her masculine swagger and stretches out certain key worrrrrds throughout the show. It felt like Resnick was combining a street thug from a Martin Scorsese crime epic with a drugged-out Midwest trailer-trash hooker from a David Lynch…whatever movies he creates. It’s an unfortunate distraction which, sadly, highlights Silverman’s flawed script even more.
I do understand that criticizing the overall production only on the basis of the script’s weakness, especially one that was previously lauded, is a major faux pas reviewers should avoid. However, it is a theater’s responsibility to produce quality plays. If the script doesn’t work, the overall production won’t work, regardless of how talented the actors and director are. And this theatrical choice ruined what would have been a perfect 2018-19 season for American Stage. This happened last season with “Strait of Gibraltar,” one of the worst plays I have ever had the displeasure to see and review. Hopefully, its three remaining shows, especially Eugene O’Neil’s immortal “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” will more than compensate for this mistake.
Peter A. Balaskas is a fiction writer, copyeditor, and playwright.
The Roommate runs from March 13 through April 7, 2019
163 3rd St N.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Photos by Joey Clay Photography