Theater Review: Bulldog Production of ‘The Roommate’ Offers a Rare and Refreshing Glimpse of Femininity and Aging

Bulldog Ensemble Theater’s production of Jen Silverman’s The Roommate offers an intimate interlude between two women in their mid-50s who are both lonely and looking for a change in their lives. Sharon, a housewife living in Iowa, has recently “retired” from her marriage. Her son has added literal distance to their relationship by moving to New York City. Robyn, who is a lesbian vegan, former slam poet, and potter, claims to be escaping from the Bronx for some peace and quiet. Robyn answers Sharon’s ad for a boarder, and the relationship that unfolds constitutes the action of the play.

With the audience situated on all sides of the stage, director Marshall Botvinick keeps the audience close to the conversations. It’s as if we are at the kitchen table having coffee with these women. The minimalist set contains just enough detail to suggest this is a family home in the land of “corn and space.” And while this burgeoning relationship between the two women begins awkwardly, it quickly becomes revealing and ultimately devolves into something quite unexpected.

Julie Oliver’s nuanced portrayal of Sharon, an anxious and somewhat sheltered woman whose identity has been narrowly defined by the labels of wife and mother, is captivating. Although it’s easy to laugh at her naiveté, she is not a comic figure, but rather a lonely person who doesn’t quite know how to affect change in her life.

Madeleine Pabis delivers an equally riveting performance as Robyn, a rough-edged New Yorker, who is evasive about her past and cloaks her own loneliness with sardonic quips.

Together they are not the typical “odd couple” who play off of each other for comedy, although there are some delightful comedic moments. Instead Silverman provides an intense snapshot of femininity and aging, that highlights how easily our lives can slip out from under us, as well as how easily we might slip toward another, albeit not always with the intended results.

The Roommate runs through October 13th at Durham Fruit and Produce Company in Durham. For more information visit the Bulldog Ensemble Theater website or the RDU on Stage Calendar Page.

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