Theatre Mirror Reviews -"Marvin's Room"

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note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Tony Annicone

"Marvin's Room"

A Review by Tony Annicone

URI Theatre's fall show is "Marvin's Room" by Scott McPherson.The show won the Outer Critics Award, the Drama Desk Award and the John Gassner Award for Best New American Play in 1992. It concerns two sisters, Bessie, their ill elderly father Marvin and their elderly ill Aunt Ruth's saintly caretaker who has leukemia, and Lee, a wisecracking, psychologically unstable free-spirit who has not helped with the caretaking. Lee is the mother of two sons, one Hank, a disturbed teenager and Charlie, his younger brother. Bessie's diagnosis and the possibility that one of them may be a match for a transplant is what brings them all together. It is a comic show about a serious illness but it is performed and written with humor amid the pathos. Director Bryna Wortman makes sure the comic moments as well as the dramatic ones come to life through her college performers. The show is a series of fourteen vignettes and Bryna brings out the best in her cast, creating a splendid show with heart for the audience to savor.

The gorgeous unit set is by Cheryl deWardener and the costumes are by Marilyn Salvatore.Sarah Leach handles the demanding role of Bessie excellently. She is marvelous as the long suffering but resilient, Bessie, from the humorous opening in the doctor's office and with her aunt to the poignant moments in the hospital and with her sister and nephews. Sarah appears in almost every scene of the show and makes every moment count. She appears without her wig in one scene showing the effects of her illness and the carousel music shows the happy time when she was in love with her carny barker. Bessie wants to bring the same happiness to her dying father by using a carnival type light to brighten his life and finally showing her love for her father and her aunt. Sarah makes Bessie into a sympathetic character that the audience adores for handling a dark situation with optimism and humor.

Maria Hyde as Aunt Ruth steals almost every scene she is in. She wears a gray wig and makes the doddering aunt with a bad back into an hilarious character. Maria's acting as this much older woman is terrific. Some comic moments include the robotic device implanted into her back opens the garage door, she loves soap operas and she thinks Pluto at Disney World is a gopher. Maria is a wonderful character actress who is always a joy to watch on stage. Another strong performance is given by Christine O'Connell as Bessie's sister, Lee. She makes this hard shelled woman soften when she deals with her sister's illness later in the show. One of Christine's best moments comes when she finally admits to Hank, her older son, that she realizes that his father beat him and took things out on the boy by yelling at him. Her emotional breakdown and renewed connection to her son is excellent. The stealing of candy and yelling at her sons are very comical. 

The two actors who play Lee's sons, Hank and Charlie do fantastuc work in this show. Stephen Peterson makes Hank, the tough juvenile offender who has burnt down his mother's house, into a likable kid by the end of the show. His scenes with Bessie, his mother and brother, show his true love for them. Hank runs away when he thinks he has failed to give Bessie the bone marrow she needs but eventually realizes that he needs the love of his family at last. Stephen makes the transition from tough to nice believable and does very well in this difficult role. He brings the audience to tears with his emotion packed performance. Americo Lanni plays Charlie, the book reading, school hating younger brother. His interactions with the other cast members are handled wonderfully especially his relationship with his mother and brother.  One of his most poignant moments occurs when he gives Hank's note to Bessie after Hank ran away and the other is when Hank returns and he runs to hug him. Americo's facial expression and touching delivery are rendered splendidly.

Other cast members might not have as much stage time as the leading players but do a topnotch job with their roles. Andrew Burnap plays the comic role of Dr. Wally who calls Bessie by the wrong name, yells at his brother who is his new assistant over the phone and kills roaches with a magazine. Andrew makes this absent minded medic hilarious and his scenes with the boys are laugh out loud moments, too. Danielle Dube plays Dr. Charlotte, Hank's psychiatrist. She is driven crazy by Lee who smokes in front of her after being reprimanded not to. Danielle is as hoot when she pulls out a cigarette in exasperation at the close of the scene. Alex Maynard plays the Retirement Home Director when Lee tries to convince Bessie to put their father there. Her stern expressions and explanation of the rules are very comical. TS McCormick plays the dying father, Marvin. Last but not least is Philip Ryng as Bob, Dr. Wally's harassed brother and Pluto at Disney World. So for a marvelous production, be sure to catch "Marvin's Room" at URI. It will make the audience laugh and cry at the appropriate moments.

"Marvin's Room" (11 - 21 October)
@ Will Theatre, URI Fine Arts Center, Upper College Road, RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide