by Beverly Creasey
Scott McPherson's tender and terribly funny play about love and death, "Marvin's Room" is getting a first class outing at the Peabody House Theater in Somerville. Director Fran Weinberg has assembled a remarkably talented cast to bring the quirky, award-willing play to life. McPherson balances the visceral with the surreal so deftly that one minute we are deeply moved by the indignities of disease, then laughing ourselves silly in the next over the ineptitude of the medical establishment.
The "Marvin" of the title is the father of a family who, because of a stroke, lies unable to speak in a room adjacent to the main playing area. The deadly diseases which figure in the play are stroke, leukemia, and loneliness. The beauty of it lies in the family's triumph over adversity ... perhaps even because of adversity.
Director Weinberg has opened up the play by expanding the playing area to encompass half a dozen different sets, instead of playing all the action in one changeable set, and also by adding original music --- by local band Fuzzy --- to complement each scene. Since I have seen two other productions of the play, I remembered only the play's sardonic wit. This time the humanity is front and center. By slowing up the pace, Weinberg allowws the script and the characters to breathe. The play thrives on this attention.
Shelley Brown gives a lovely, understated performance as the sacrificing sister who cares for her father and a slightly daffy aunt. They are played by Ed Thurston in another of his 'incapacitated father' roles, and by Bernice Bronson as the sweetest of souls.. Johanna Winfield gives a powerful performance as the estranged sister who struggles with everyone, especially her two sons. J. C. DeVore is rivetting as the rebellious, defiant teen and Jonathan Silver is charming as his bookworm younger brother.
Playwright McPherson invented some marvelous secondary characters, chief among them the adorably absent-minded doctor. Chris Doubek is sensational as this endearing Dr. Wally, who is everyone's worst nightmare, dropping sterile syringes and then using them. Weinberg has given him some mighty clever schtick to fool around with. Dorothy Brodesser, too, is fabulously droll as a disapproving shrink, and Claire Gregoire is deliciously nasty as a nursing home intake administrator. Michael Sherman, as well, has fun with his several comic roles.
Mariolga Nido's costumes are ingeniously suited to each character, especially her flashy colors for the obvious Dr. Wally. Jeff Gardiner's muntiple sets take the breath away. In addition to a fully working kitchen, Gardiner gets subtle laughs with his Disney World playroom, and a cramped examination room, each of which he lihts with appropriate attention to detail. I thought I even saw some harsh flourescent glow in the medical set!
Clearly this production was put together with immense care and attention to detail from everyone ... and it shows.