Sunday, June 5, 2022

"The Roommate" by Prime Productions at Mixed Blood Theatre

"PRIME Productions seeks to explore, illuminate and support women over fifty and their stories through the creative voice of performance." I say huzzah to that! And to the return of PRIME and their celebration of women in their prime, who are often overlooked in entertainment and in life. Their first post-pandemic-intermission production is the two-hander The Roommate written by Playwrights' Center affiliated writer Jen Silverman, and it's a gem. In this dark comedy that the website describes as "Breaking Bad meets Grace and Frankie," to which I would add a little bit of Good Girls, two very different women find themselves living together, and learn things from each other, whether it's how to commit crimes or how to open up to a friend (click here for info and tickets). 

The play takes place in the comfortable Iowa home of Sharon (Greta Oglesby), a divorced mom of an adult son. Her new roommate Robyn (Alison Edwards) arrives, a lesbian vegan from Brooklyn with a mysterious background. Much of the humor comes from the culture clash as the two women mesh their lives (almond milk? book club?!). Sharon is curious, Robyn is withholding, but eventually, and with the help of some snooping, Robyn opens up about her criminal past that she's trying to move on from. But Sharon is fascinated, and wants to learn how it's done, so Robyn finds herself slipping back into her old ways with a new partner. It's an allegory for women of a certain age finally going after what they want regardless of what society (or their children) expect of them, finding something fun and new and exciting out of life. Even if in this story it means breaking a few laws.

the dynamic duo: Greta Oglesby and Alison Edwards
(photo by Dan Norman)
Local comedy legend Greta Grosch (of the Church Basement Ladies) directs the piece, which is perhaps why the comedy is so sharp and impeccably timed. That can also be credited to the cast, who are both total pros and such a joy to watch, with a sparkling chemistry between their very different and specific characters. I don't think I've ever seen #TCTheater veteran Greta Oglesby in a comedy before, I know her mostly from dramas and of course her incredible voice. But she also has serious comedy chops; she is absolutely hilarious as this Iowa mom discovering a new and dangerous side of herself. Alison Edwards is fairly new to the #TCTheater scene, having moved here recently after working in and out of NYC for 40 years, with a ton of regional theater credits. She's a great addition to our theater community, a perfect partner/foil to Greta, funny in a different way as the world-weary reformed criminal. And not just funny; both actors also find the humanity in their characters as they navigate this new relationship. It's a treat to witness two fully formed, well rounded character portrayals.

The Mixed Blood stage has been turned into an Iowa farmhouse by BrownKnows Design, with a homey kitchen (with real coffee in the pot) and dining area. The set is open to black curtains behind it, with the doors and windows of the house simply framed out, creating an interesting illusion of walls. The characters are dressed in basic black, with a change of shirt or jacket (often onstage during scene transitions) to mark the passage of days (costume design by Kathy Kohl).

Jen Silverman has written a very funny and smart script about mature and complicated women, and in the hands of this mostly female creative team and flawless cast, it absolutely sparkles and snaps. The characters and scenes are so crisply drawn, it feels real even while veering into crime fantasy. Go see this gem of a play at Mixed Blood Theatre through June 19!