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'The Roommate' ponders the price of friendship, dramatic change
Renaissance Theaterworks provides provoking production


By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

October 24, 2019


Isabel Quintero, left, and Marti Gobel in Renaissance Theaterworks’ production of
“The Roommate.”
Photography by Ross E. Zentner
 

MILWAUKEE - A roommate is always a gamble, whether it be with a friend, family member or stranger. Even a significant other or marriage partner can elicit some mutual surprises when one starts sharing space together.

Picture the combo of a relatively sheltered, middle-aged Iowan woman, and a savvy, cool character with a spotty personal history from the Bronx . Meet Sharon and Robyn, our two residents whose journey we will follow for the next 100 minutes. We will be amused, surprised and concerned every step of the way. Playwright Jen Silverman and actors Isabel Quintero and Marti Gobel assure us of sterling entertainment, but leave us with a few nagging questions as the play ends.

Sharon , masterfully played by the facially expressive Quintero, reacts dramatically to discovering that Robyn is a vegan, a lesbian, a con artist and a woman with several identities. Her checkered past includes being a potter, a poet, a thief, a scammer, a drug dealer and the mother of one daughter with whom she shares a conflicted connection.  Sharon is often agape with amazement, but with a certain fascination as well.

Robyn is trying to turn around her life, but the geographical cure doesn’t seem to be working. She seems addicted to daring escapades and quick money schemes, despite all her resolutions.

After getting to know each better, Sharon is intrigued by her new roommate’s lifestyle and is tempted to experiment with it a bit herself. With a little tutoring from Robyn, she starts making phone calls to solicit money for worthy causes (her own), selling pot to her friends in her reading group, having online dates, and soon finds herself relishing the experiment. She begins to feel that she is creating a new life for herself, one she likes much better than her previous one, where her only excitement was calling her son in New York , but often feeling dismissed by him with his tepid or lack of responses.

One morning, amid a maelstrom of emotions after enjoying a wild night with Robyn, Sharon awakes to discover that her roommate is gone. She is crushed, for she has grown very fond of the once-stranger, now-friend she has acquired. She collapses with grief on the kitchen floor and remains there for several days, feeling lost and empty and betrayed.

She later finds a box that Robyn has left behind and also receives a phone call from her vanished friend.

What this box and this call reveal must await your attendance at the show. That’s all I can say, but I am still pondering the questions - what is the price of friendship, what is the cost of success, what are the consequences of our choices as we create the pattern of our lives.

It’s an intriguing show, sensitively directed by Susan Fete, one of the Renaissance Theatreworks’ founders. The acting was stellar; the script, provocative; the event, worthwhile. Whoever made all those prop changes so efficiently (Melissa Centgraf or Simone Tegge) deserves credit as well, along with the set designer, Madelyn Lee.
 

GLANCE

“The Roommate”

The play runs through Nov. 10 in the Studio Theatre, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee.
Call 414-291-7800 or visit Renaissance Theaterworks at  www.r-t-w.com.