Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Roommate
Theatre Artists Studio
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Fairview and The Gin Game

Debra K. Stevens and Jodie Weiss
Photo by Bill Phillips
Jen Silverman's dramedy The Roommate focuses on two middle-aged strangers who find a connection when they become roommates. Theatre Artist Studio's production of this 2015 play features two well-known local actresses, Debra K. Stevens and Jodie Weiss, who are both exceptional as these two lost souls. Their wonderful and realistic performances help mitigate some of the shortfalls in the underbaked, uneven, and somewhat unconvincing script.

Sharon is a lonely, middle-aged divorcée who advertises for a roommate. The play begins when Robyn moves into Sharon's Iowa home. Over the next few weeks, the two women learn about each other and discover they are both in need of starting over. Sharon says she's "retired" from her unhappy marriage and Robyn has moved to Iowa from New York City to get away from her past. When Sharon discovers Robyn's hidden stash of dozens of fake driver's licenses, she begins to wonder what exactly Robyn is escaping from. Was she doing something illegal? Is anyone after her? In discovering the truth about Robyn's past, Sharon also discovers her own need to find out who she is and what she needs to do to transform her lonely, empty life.

Silverman's script is an interesting character study but somewhat lacking as a fully fleshed-out drama. While there are many poignant and moving moments, there are odd shifts between comedy and drama with much of the tension and conflict coming across as awkward and unrealistic since most are due to Robyn's rough ways and Sharon's seemingly innocent understanding of the world. In the beginning, it seems like we are going to get a female Odd Couple, since Robyn is a gay vegan who smokes in the kitchen and continually butts heads with Sharon, a naïve loner who has not been on a date since her divorce. When the truth of Robyn's past is revealed, the play morphs into a buddy comedy and then it changes again into somewhat of a bittersweet drama about female midlife discovery.

Silverman had a great idea in writing a play that focuses on this underserved demographic. However, there are just too many unbelievable oddities in the plot and unrealistic plot devices that make the poignant story less impactful. At one point, after Sharon convinces Robyn they should start selling Robyn's homegrown marijuana, Sharon suggests they sell drugs to 12-year-olds and she buys a gun, both of which seem completely out of character for her. Both women use Sharon's landline to make personal calls to their children that they don't want the other to be aware of, which sets up how Sharon gains information on Robyn when she answers a call from Robyn's daughter. Why would Robyn make a call to her daughter, who we are aware she doesn't want Sharon to know about, from Sharon's landline when we see that Robyn has a cellphone at one point in the play? These lapses and oddities in plotting make it seem like Silverman added them in merely as a way to add tension to the plot. They also detract from the potential for a moving drama about two middle-aged women finding themselves through their new friendship.

While it's unfortunate the shifts of tone aren't cleaner and the plot has several holes, the characters are fairly well defined, and Debra K. Stevens and Jodie Weiss present fleshed out, natural, and beautiful portrayals of these intriguing and interesting women. Both Weiss and Stevens bring the right tone to the script and, under Patti Suarez's clean and delicate direction, don't push the comic lines too broad where they'd become farcical while also ensuring the poignancy in their actions and delivery of dialogue is clear.

Weiss is simply lovely as the lonely woman who comes alive by having someone around to talk to. It's clear from Sharon's numerous phone calls to her son and her talk of her past with Robyn that she's a woman who has always played by the rules. Once she learns about Robyn's reckless and dangerous past, Weiss' performance evokes a newfound restless energy and excitement along with newly discovered feelings. In her performance of Sharon, Weiss radiates a nervous joy and eagerness at life. She also gets the more in-depth character to play as well as the one with the more compelling journey.

At first, Stevens is appropriately guarded and aloof as Robyn. From her clear actions and measured delivery, we see how Robyn is trying to restart her life and escape the crimes of her past but is uncertain who to trust or how much of her past to reveal. Stevens is also entirely believable in depicting the various hobbies and skills Robyn has, including pot smoking, poetry writing, making pottery, and being a focused con artist who claims she knows how to strip down a car. Stevens' performance is crisp and painfully poignant.

Collectively, Suarez, Weiss and Stevens elevate this production to something that goes beyond the stilted script. Suarez is an actress and director with years of experience so she clearly understands what's needed to make the production succeed. That's why, even with some reservations with the play, I enjoyed it and would recommend it in order to see these two exceptional actresses at work together on stage.

The Roommate runs through May 7, 2023, at Theatre Artists Studio, 4848 East Cactus Road, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-765-0120

Director/ Set Design: Patti Suarez
Lighting Design: Stacey Walston
Production Manager: Tom Noga
Props: Marilyn Griswold-Lind, Patti Suarez
Sound Design: Clark DesSoye, Bruce Howden
Stage Manager: Marilyn Griswold-Lind

Sharon: Jodie Weiss
Robyn: Debra K. Stevens
Son's Voice: Beau Heckman
French Lesson Voice: JP Menese