Let’s Play had the honor to interview Ora Jones and Sharon Marquez, who are the featured actors in a two-woman play called “The Roommate” at The Steppenwolf Theatre (reviewed in the Defender July 11, 2018).
Sharon is a Midwestern empty-nester who opens her home to Robyn, a woman from the Bronx who has many talents, and Sharon is eager to learn them all! It’s a funny and touching story about how choices lead to mid-life challenges and the unexpected rewards and unforeseen sorrows each woman faces. “The Roommate” is a warm, funny story where “The Odd Couple” meets Breaking Bad.
Let’s Play (LP): Ora in the role of Robyn, a fiery soul from the Bronx looking to escape her past, who rooms with Sharon, another woman seeking to remove herself from her old life, as they both look to start a new chapter in life. Tell the readers, what drew you to the role of Robyn?
Ora: Well, part of it was the excitement of taking on a character that I’ve never approached in my career or anything like it, so that was challenging and exciting; however, I don’t know how successful I would have been without Phylicia Rashad as the director. Her guidance was amazing. Also, the chance to work with Sandra Marquez again was too good of a role to turn down.
LP: Sandra, this is our first time interviewing you; welcome! In your role as Sharon, can you tell us were there any similarities you had with Sharon that helped you with this role?
Sandra: Thank you, Brenda and Rick. Well, finding similarities to me is part of the job. I feel like for me as an actor when I take on a role, it’s my job to figure out how similar I am to this person, to the character. Then I bring together those traits so that I can make the person on the stage as real and as honest as possible.
I genuinely believe that a lot of this character reminds me of my mother. She had that sort of a sweet, naive and innocent quality; that if given certain opportunities, would do what Sharon does in this play; so I feel like that helps me and it was fun experimenting.
Sharon is kind of a nerd, which is similar to me because I was a nerd.
I was a skinny little Mexican girl with wire-rim glasses who somehow was able to get along with everybody and that helped me with playing Sharon.
LP: The consensus is that people are in love with “The Roommate.” Tell us why you believe audiences are so pleased with this play?
Sandra: We are so thrilled to hear that people are enjoying “The Roommate.” I think it’s because the play is about normal, everyday people sharing their hearts and their pain. I’ve been amazed because like Brenda said earlier, I thought “The Roommate” was just going to appeal to women of a certain age; however, I’ve been honestly moved and touched by the variety of people who responded to the play.
I was talking with a couple of friends of mine who came to see the show, and they brought a student around 24 years old, and he told me that the play really moved him. I asked him why and he said, I just kept seeing a lot of my mom and realizing how lonely she must feel with her children gone, and that really moved me.
I think it comes down to human beings are interested in human stories.
Ora: Yes, we are thrilled people are enjoying the play, and I agree with Sandra; when it comes to the younger people, they just want to see diverse human stories. I remember seeing two young White boys in their twenties sitting in chairs in the theater lounge, and they were still there after we came back from dinner. We stopped and had a conversation with them, and they were so excited about this play. They told us it was because they saw a great human story. It doesn’t matter how old you are; people still want acceptance. You want to be loved and seen. People all over the world are trying to find ways to define themselves in cultures that often render them invisible, useless, unappealing, unattractive or just wrong, but “The Roommate” lets you see two people from the opposite sides of the track make a connection without judgment.
LP: What do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing “The Roommate”?
Sandra: I want them to walk away with the realization that people over 40 are alive, vibrant and continuing their lives; and we continue to grow; that’s the first thing. The second is that although life can be hard and make you cry sometimes, life at our age is fun, sexy, so enjoy being alive. Sure, there will be times when you don’t want to cry, but living life brings you to that sometimes. That’s the journey of life.
Ora: For me, the take away is that there is always an opportunity to be your best, but you can’t always be what people think you are or what they want you to be; however you are never more at your best than when you are following your desired pathway in life.
I understand it’s hard to do. Something happens, and you get hurt, and then you don’t want to do it again, but like Sandra said, you’re alive, and you can find people who see you for who you are; so leave yourself open for these “Roommate” opportunities. Remember to always see yourself as a beautiful, vibrant human being who is capable of doing anything no matter what others say.
I want them to walk away with being who you are because being who you are is good enough. Yes, it is good enough!
LP: There are a few scenes in the play that will tug at the soul and bring you to tears. Talk to us about the emotions needed to play those scenes.
Ora: First of all, I will say that I am very grateful to Phylicia because she set an atmosphere that was so generous, and open to discuss any concerns.
No one in that room was going to harass or tell you to get over it if you wanted to voice your opinions. She brought people in who were ready to listen to you, that made you feel so appreciated that I’m getting emotional right now reminiscing about it. They were so helpful in working with us as we learned the characters which really helped us to figure out how to trust someone or deal with feelings when that trust is broken.
This was very valuable to the role of Robyn when she discovers what happens, when you know that the best thing to do if you genuinely love and care for that person is to leave them. That’s a tough thing to do and almost impossible, but it’s something you have to do when you realize that the relationship can’t continue without destroying both parties involved.
Sandra: Well, who amongst us hasn’t lost someone? From the day you’re born, you’re going to have to face losing someone in your life. When I was in my twenties, I spent a lot of time with these nuns, and I remember Sister Carol said, you know every goodbye is a preparation for the big goodbye; I never forgot that. From the time when you are a child, you are preparing yourself for that last goodbye, and those words and life itself helped me with the emotions needed in this play. It’s about human loss and how it hurts our hearts, and yet we still have the desire to open it to love, but there’s a price to pay, but that is the human story.
LP: For our last question, tell us about the fun you had playing these characters?
Ora: Let me say you will definitely have fun if you come to see “The Roommate” at the Steppenwolf Theatre. We are just a couple of wackadoos! Robyn, my character, acts like she’s got it together, and I’m not sure she does. It’s funny and yet endearing to see both ladies trying to figure each other out. There are some special moments in this play where the audience will be like, oh, I didn’t see that coming or they wouldn’t expect that these two women would be capable of doing these kinds of things and those shocking moments will bring out laughter.