Entertainment » Theatre

The Roommate

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Tuesday Oct 30, 2018
Paula Plum and Adrianne Krstansky in "The Roommate" at the Lyric Stage through November 18.
Paula Plum and Adrianne Krstansky in "The Roommate" at the Lyric Stage through November 18.  (Source:Mark S. Howard)

"As women, once you're out of your 30s, in this particular society in America, you become slightly invisible," said playwright Jen Silverman in the pages of American Theater Magazine. To remedy that dearth of good roles for female actresses over 40, she was prompted to write "The Roommate," an engaging, twisty dark comedy that is having its Boston premiere at the Lyric Stage Company through November 18.

On that level she succeeds — her two-hander, which is fast becoming one of the most performed plays in regional theaters throughout the country — boasts two meaty roles for actresses in their 50s that seem retrofitted for two of Boston's leading actresses. First there is Sharon (Paula Plum), an empty-nester (her husband is dead and her only son lives in Brooklyn Heights), who is living a life of quiet desperation in Iowa. In need of both money and companionship, she decides to share her home with Robyn (Adrianne Krstansky), a transplanted New Yorker with more than a whiff of mystery to her. Robyn is all urban swagger, which leaves Sharon a bit taken aback, especially when she suggest the possibility of transgressing societal norms with her watchcry: "there is a great liberty in being bad." But will she break bad in her new home?

Though Silverman's writing is often no better than standard network sitcom fare and her narrative too reliant on an ever-present phone to convey plot points, her play insinuates in unexpected ways, most tellingly in its development of Sharon's character. Less said the better as to what happens (think more "Weeds" than "The Golden Girls"), but in her attempts to push Sharon out of her staid ways, Robyn realizes she's creating a monster.

The brisk production (directed by Spiro Veloudos) showcases the range of these actresses. At first Plum is all nervous energy as Krstansky takes center stage upon her arrival, and it isn't long before this red state square is transformed by this embodiment of blue state cool. Before you can say herbal substances, she smokes pot for the first time and is going on dates with men she meets on the Internet — sit-commy stuff, but well-played. Plum blossoms in a very funny scene after a date where she even shocks Krstansky with her evolving personality. For her part, Krstansky brings both confidence and mystery to her conflicted character, imbuing her with a sadness that shapes the play's final third.

For the setting, Jenna McFarland Lord has created a spacious, lived-in kitchen that would look right at home in a Swiffer commercial, lit with care by Chris Hudacs and nicely accented by Tobi Rinaldi's character-appropriate costumes. What's best about "The Roommate" is how it is really a wolf in sheep's clothing — a play with darker subtexts about the lure of the grift expertly played by its cast.

"The Roommate" continues through November 18 at the Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA. For further information, visit the Lyric Stage website.

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].

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