Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Marvin's Room"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark


"Marvin's Room"

by Scott McPherson
Directed by Fran Weinberg
Music by Fuzzy

Sound Design by Ben Arons
Set & Light Design by Jeff Gardiner
Costumes Designed by Mariolga Nido
Stage Manager Peyton Craig

Marvin.......................................Ed Thurston
Retirement Home Director.....Claire Gregoire
Bob....................................Michael Sherman
Dr Charlitte.....................Dorothy Brodesser
Dr. Wally.................................Chris Doubek
Aunt Ruth............................Bernice Bronson
Charlie...................................Jonathan Silver
Hank.........................................J. C. DeVore
Bessie.....................................Shelley Brown
Lee.....................................Johanna Winfield


I have rarely seen a stage play more eager to leap off the stage and onto celluloid than Scott McPherson's "Marvin's Room" It is a credit to Set Designer Jeff Gardiner that see-through scrims and a couple of revolving sets bring the play's eleven scenes --- including one at Disneyland --- into the Peabody House Theatre's playspace. It's an even greater credit to Fran Weinberg's sensitive, certain direction that the troubled, coping, achingly human characters remain breathing, believable people of sincerely fallible reality. I think she does it, mostly, with pauses.

"I don't know how you do it, Bessie," says one sister to another. "You stepped in and have been taking care of Dad ever since his stroke."
"Oh, Lee," comes the reply, "I just did what anyone would do."
Both sisters are impersonally sincere, but in the pause that follows each of them, and the audience, painfully reflects that Lee most certainly did NOT do what "anyone" would; instead she ran from any responsibility into a family of her own. And now that Bessie is under the death-sentence of leukemia, there is much too much for the sisters to avoid talking about.

The play deals unflinchingly with medical inevitabilities and fragmenting families. Ed Thurston's Marvin is "still with us" but the only real joy he has left is watching a pocket-mirror bounce reflected light across the ceiling of his room. Aunt Ruth (Bernice Robinson) has wires into her brain with which she can counteract constant pain, but her only real joy is "Days of Our Lives". The family is reunited only because chemotherapy has killed nothing but Bessie's hair, and only a bone-marrow transplant from one of Lee's two boys can save her --- if there's a genetic match. But J. C. DeVore's Hank is in a mental ins -- oh no, we refer to it as a "looney bin" to prove we still have a sense of humor --- waiting to turn eighteen, and little Charley (Jonathan Silver) holds the books he immerses in close up to his face so he can't see Hank and his mother yelling at one another. That's the family.

The representatives of the real world outside are along only to provide comic relief --- and thank God they are funny! Claire Gregoire has one quick scene as a condescending retirement home director blandly assuring them they will qualify for subsidy enough to afford their rates if they first sell all their real assets and become poor enough by buying something --- say an expensive tombstone. Dorothy Brodesser also has a scene as Hank's determinedly non-committal shrink. Chris Doubek is the doctor who starts with tired blood and settles on leukemia, a doctor so young when he eventually finds a vein he has to mark it with a ball-point not to lose it again. Michael Sherman is the doctor's equally incompetent brother, and Goofy at Disney World. They are deftly, realistically bombastic at exactly the points tension must be broken.

But it's the three principals that make the show glow --- each one perfectly centered, fully themselves. Johanna Winfield is a single parent fighting for control, her clenched fists and shouted orders, her fussy insistence on outward decorum stubbornly refusing compromise as though it would mean admission of defeat. J. C. DeVore plays her son as someone who may long since have forgotten what the battles are about, knowing only it is worth more than life itself not to lose any skirmish no matter who it hurts. And Shelley Brown's Bessie always does "what anyone would have done" not because she's a saint, not to win any medals, but just because she is what she is. For her giving, and loving, are natural gestures, though others may suspect devious motives.

And it is this trio of fearless actors, digging deep into themselves to do a scorpion-dance of family values, who show us ourselves. I am Charley, blotting the world out with my books --- and maybe Lee. I know the many reasons I had to tear myself out of New Jersey to become myself, and was it my fault that Camels and Velvet pipe tobacco did things to my father's lungs and liver that not even A.A. meetings could reverse? I couldn't stay nine years old for them forever, could I?

You see? Some times a good play, done amazingly well, turns out to be not about its author, its actors, its brilliant director, but about everyone who comes to see it done so well.

You ought to be one of them

Love,
===Anon.


"Marvin's Room" (till 12 December)
PEABODY HOUSE THEATRE COOPERATIVE
277 Broadway, SOMERVILLE
1(617)625-1300

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