The Roommate: A New Twist on Cohabitation

Tony Award Winner Phylicia Rashad Directs Chicago Premiere of
The Roommate
Written by Jen Silverman
June 21 – August 5, 2018

Ora Jones (Robyn)

Cohabitation is beautiful! As humans, we were meant to live together; however, people have different motives as to why they choose to live with one another.  A few of those reasons may be to reach a financial goal, have a companion to communicate with, or someone to assist them with their daily routines around the house. Whatever the case may be, it usually leads to them taking in a roommate. No matter how diligent you are in finding the right person to complement your lifestyle, that person you choose as a roommate can influence you through their actions and conversations.
Playwright Jen Silverman gives us a new twist regarding cohabitation in the play “The Roommate,” where two women from opposite backgrounds collide in a unique story that will convey how early-life choices can lead to mid-life challenges. Picture the 1970’s hit show, “The Odd Couple,” but instead of having grumpy and persnickety aging men, this warm and humorous story is played out with two 54-year-old women in a comical mismatch who are at crossroads in their lives searching to find their truths in a sleepy Iowa town.
Sharon (Sandra Marquez) is a relatively friendly and practical divorcee who is an empty-nester trying to figure out her life and who struggles to communicate with her son. She puts an ad in the paper looking for a roommate to share her home and help pay the bills.
Robyn (Ora Jones) is a fiery soul from the Bronx who needs a place to hide and wishes to start over. She is holding a lifetime of secrets, doesn’t live a traditional lifestyle and is seeking to escape from her past mistakes. Upon her first encounter with Sharon, it leads her to believe Sharon is nosy and too talkative; which doesn’t make for a good fit for someone seeking to forget their past.
This two-hander play is a come to grips story about two women who are transforming each other’s lives while learning that they share more similarities than differences; but should their differences keep them apart?
Sharon begins to uncover Robyn’s secrets which encourage her deep-seated desire to once and for all change her dull existence and transform her life completely. A touching, yet unorthodox friendship blossoms in this dark comedy where influences can lead to questionable choices.
“Invisible Women Syndrome (IWS)” is a designation where women between the ages of 45 and 60 begin to disappear from society’s view.  Society might categorize women of a certain age by this syndrome, however, these two are far from being concerned with IWS.
Sharon, with some ill-advised assistance from Robyn, discovers a dark and hidden strength within herself and becomes an influential woman in her little rural city in Iowa living out dangerous possibilities. Robyn begins to see a not so pretty picture of the life she wanted to escape and sees how her past was affecting Sharon. Robyn decides to make a decision that would seriously change the dynamics of their relationship.
Although most storylines about roommates like the 1968 film version of the stage play “The Odd Couple,” which starred Jack Lemmon as Felix and Walter Matthau as Oscar or in the 70’s hit TV series which featured men as the leads, Silverman knew that women, (i.e., Laverne and Shirley); could drive the narrative as the central characters. Ora Jones and Sandra Marquez are exceptional in this production directed by Phylicia Rashad.
Rashad, a Tony Award Winner,, perhaps best-known for her TV role as Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” has several directorial credits to her name, including a plethora of works by the late August Wilson. She directed Seattle Repertory Theatre’s 2007 production of “Gem of the Ocean,” the 2014 revival of “Fences” at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, and most recently, a 2016 production of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.  Now she brings her extraordinary talents to Steppenwolf.
Rashad does a great job bringing on two very talented women. Both Ora and Sandra were able to guide the audience into the joys and pains within this play as we witness two women with a renewed, undefined journey of starting life over again. We get to see two women transforming their lives as the center of attention, with Rashad making them visible through the clever remake of Silverman’s comedy.
There are some missing pieces in this play with one being how and why the ladies decide to become roommates. And there are a few moments where you may wonder, “where did that come from?”  But hey, some things you just had to figure out. At around 90-minutes, “The Roommate” will provide you with enough laughter and drama to make any evening a perfect night out.
Let’s Play highly recommends “The Roommate,” a play where “The Odd Couple” meets “Breaking Bad” and where women of a certain age are visible again to society.
The cast includes Steppenwolf ensemble members:
Ora Jones (Robyn)
Sandra Marquez (Sharon)


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