Steppenwolf Artistic Director Anna Shapiro welcomes the audience to “The Roommate” with this program note: “A deeply unfortunate truth in our society is that there is literally a syndrome when women arrive at a certain age (45-60) and begin to disappear from society’s view.”
Playwright Jen Silverman attempts to correct that wrong head-on, and has written a tour de force of meaty roles for two women in their 50s.
“The Roommate” is a touching, refreshingly witty comedy directed by Tony Award-winning Phylicia Rashad, and stars two absolutely magnificent actresses, Ora Jones and Sandra Marquez. The two Steppenwolf ensemble members last appeared together in “The Doppelgänger,” and their chemistry is energetic, magnetic and full.
Jones and Marquez are irresistible (and rarely offstage) as they vividly engage us in the contemporary tale of what happens when a squeaky clean empty nester named Sharon (Marquez) uncharacteristically takes a risk and takes in a roommate (we’re led to believe sight unseen).
That roommate Robyn (Jones) is a vegan, from the Bronx, gay and has many secrets – all in direct opposition to that Iowan attitude of Sharon; what’s in common is that they’re both searching for fresh starts. Jones and Marquez cannot be separated for acclaim. They are equally stellar in their portrayals of two dysfunctional characters; they’re both impressive and skilled actresses.
Each well-paced scene exposes more about each woman’s past, life and hopes. Yes, there’s desperation, and unexpected twists and questionable choices, but it’s all accompanied by lots of hilarity – none so funny as the “medicinal herbs” scene, Sharon’s “I’m a Poet” scene and the many interwoven comments about Iowa, Idaho and Illinois.
Past critics have compared “The Roommate” to a mixture of “The Odd Couple/Breaking Bad/Thelma and Louise,” but this is a reflective, delicious celebration of friendship. The ending perhaps is somewhat surprising to some and highly predictable to others, but it is nonetheless satisfying and happily ends on a laugh and a hope. Well worth the enjoyable 90-minute occupancy.
• Regina Belt-Daniels is a working actress and director. A retired District 47 special educator and retired Raue Board director and vice president, she currently serves on the boards of RCLPC and It’s Showtime.
• 90 minutes with no intermission
• Steppenwolf Downstairs Theater, 1650 N. Halsted St. Chicago
• Tickets: $20-93