Enter your 50s and you become invisible. People look right through 50-something women as if you are not there; waiters ignore you and bartenders don’t flirt with you; store personnel stare right past you to wait on the pretty young things.
This invisibility can be particularly bewildering for mothers and wives who gave years of their lives to children and spouses, only to find themselves without a role and purpose as the hours tick by in silent, empty houses.
A depressing scenario, for sure, especially if you are living it. But playwright Jen Silverman brings humor and a wicked sense of anarchic fun to “the invisible age” with The Roommate, directed with relish by Johanna Gruenhut for Everyman Theatre.
Silverman and Gruenhut are partners in crime in bringing to crackling life this story of women coming of age when they are supposed to be past their prime.
We first meet Sharon (Deborah Hazlett) in her country kitchen (kudos to set designer Timothy R. Mackabee for the homespun, familiar set of rooster knickknacks, ruffled curtains, cozy wallpaper and refrigerator magnets) in a barn jacket and khakis, looking like an Iowa version of Martha Stewart. She’s a hardcore people-pleaser, chatty and over-eager as she welcomes roommate Robyn (Beth Hylton) into her home.
An empty nester and recent divorcee, Sharon decides to rent out a room in her spacious house—“Iowa, it specializes in corn…and space,” she babbles—to someone near her age. Robyn, however, is no middle-aged mouse. In torn black jeans, a leather motorcycle jacket and boots, Robyn has transplanted herself from New York to the farm belt for reasons she is not inclined to discuss.
closes November 27, 2016
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Sharon makes casseroles and goes to book club. Robyn smokes pot, plays Patti Smith at high volume and is a lesbian vegan slam poet. Her exotic presence—and dogged mysteriousness—sparks something in Sharon. She starts to re-imagine herself, take risks, and challenge her conventional view of herself.
Robyn reveals herself on a need-to-know basis to the point where you wonder what she’s hiding. When you find out her past and just what she does for a living, it’s shocking but deliciously so.
I mean, if you are going to be invisible, why not take advantage of it? The naughty dynamic in The Roommate kind of reminds you of that episode of the Netflix TV series Grace and Frankie where Lily Tomlin’s character shoplifts a pack of cigarettes from a store because well, she can, since no one pays any attention to her.
You get concerned for Sharon, who goes off the rails in an effort to bring out her inner bad-ass. But then you realize that your unease is a tribute to Hazlett’s acting acumen, as she creates a character who is warmly maternal yet unpredictable and brave—someone you care deeply for and can’t take your eyes away from. And you feel her loneliness right down to your toes; that raw hunger for any type of connection and company.
Robyn’s line of work requires living under the radar, but in Sharon’s kitchen she is a catalyst for trouble. Hylton gives Robyn confidence and certainty—she knows what to do to go legit, but being bad is just so easy and she’s so good at it.
The Roommate does not tie up everything neatly in the end, especially for Sharon, who is left literally and metaphorically holding the bag. Will she crawl back into her shell or keep shaking things up? Dangerous as it may seem, you root for Sharon raising her own kind of hell.
The Roommate by Jen Silverman . Director: Johanna Gruenhut. Featuring: Deborah Hazlett and Beth Hylton . Set Design: Timothy R. Mackabee. Lighting Design: Jesse Belsky. Costume Design: Sarah Cubbage. Sound Design: Stowe Nelson. Props Master: Jillian Mathews. Dramaturgy: Johanna Gruenhut. Stage Manager: Cat Wallis. Produced by Everyman Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.