By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
Sharon (Tamara Tunie) invites Robyn (Laurie Klatscher) to move into her rambling, renovated farm house in Iowa City, Iowa. The two total strangers have to navigate life together on faith – armed with very little information about each other’s lives in Jen Silverman’s “The Roommate.”
Sharon is a straight-laced Midwestern mom with empty nest syndrome. She is living vicariously through her son’s adventures in far off New York City. Outside of her book club and a part-time job, her life seems emptier than her nest.
Robyn is a vegan, lesbian slam poet. She seems innocuous, harmless, living a carefree life, but the self-proclaimed slam poet has a pitch-black shadowy past.
“The Roommates” opens with a familiar premise. Neil Simon once put two distinctively different people in an apartment together and watch them drive each other crazy. While Sharon and Robyn are the oddest of odd couples, the play swiftly diverges from Simon in modern and absurd ways.
Its closer to “Grace and Frankie,” if you replaced Grace Hanson and Frankie Bergstein with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.
There is a valley of loneliness between Sharon and Robyn. They both struggle with familial relationships. Sharon finds Robyn’s life thrilling and Robyn tries to image the peace of living like Sharon. Robyn gives Sharon the confidence she spin her life in another direction.
Speaking of confidence, the two roommates develop a fun little game. Let’s say this particular confidence game gets out of hand quickly. To tell too much would spoil some of the best jokes. Luckily, there are a lot of good jokes.
Silverman’s script starts like a sit-com, but slowly, methodically, it becomes something else entirely. The play – like a tea kettle – simmers along until it alarms everyone that it’s ready.
Tunie is hilarious as Sharon. Her character’s naiveté is the butt of several good laughs. Tunie disappears into the role. Tunie is on fire in the ‘Burgh these days. She’s ripping this town up and making it hers, playing vastly different people. Sharon is very different from Prospero – her starring turn in the Pittsburgh Public’s “The Tempest.” She goes from Gandalf to Betty Crocker.
Robyn is a conflicted soul, and Klatscher plays her with conviction and nuance. She is neither hero, nor villain, but a flawed character with hidden depth and a bigger heart than she’d ever reveal.
Reginald L. Douglas’s direction is tight. The transitions between scenes are whimsical and fun, speeding the play along in all the right ways.
All the action takes place in Sharon’s well-appointed home, expertly crafted with style and grace by Tony Ferrieri. The house looks like it popped up, fully formed, out of an issue of “Better Home and Gardens.”
“The Roommate” is a game of three card monte. Robyn sort of flips Sharon around and around. Where she stops – nobody knows. Just like the card game, it’s fun to be surprised at where everything ends up.
“The Roommate” takes up residence in the City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203 until March 24. For more information, click here.