Broadway Theater Review: MARVIN’S ROOM (Roundabout)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on July 9, 2017

in Theater-New York


In a way Scott McPherson’s Marvin’s Room is a perfect play. It’s like a well-ordered house, comfortable, professionally decorated, where everything works. The story is straightforward, told simply, about real people with real problems. We empathize with the characters and sympathize with their plight. Anne Kauffman’s tempered direction for Roundabout Theatre Company brings us gently into the show’s world, and unassailable performances from the excellent cast keep us immersed in its details. All-in-all a very pleasant outing for a Sunday afternoon (42nd Street notwithstanding).

Kind, wise and generous, Bessie (Lili Taylor) has been taking care of her bedridden father and her ailing aunt Ruth (Celia Weston) for twenty years when she is diagnosed with leukemia. This leads to Bessie’s estranged ne’er-do-well  sister Lee (Janeane Garofalo) coming down to join her in Florida with her two young sons, Hank (Jack DiFalco) and Charlie (Luca Padovan); Bessie’s doctor, Dr. Wally (Triney Sandoval) needs to test the three to see if they match as bone marrow donors.

Two decades earlier, when their father had his first stroke, Bessie chose to stay and take care of him, while Lee chose to leave. The sisters hadn’t seen each other since. In that time Lee’s life has been topsy-turvy, mostly—we get the sense—as a result of her own selfishness and foolishness. Currently, seventeen-year-old Hank lives in a mental institution, placed there after he burned down their house. And Charlie has to repeat a remedial class in school because he spends all his time immersed in books. Lee loves her boys but hasn’t a clue how to interact with them properly, and it’s a question whether she’ll ever gain the wisdom to do so. All this makes for a tasty stew of family drama. Though I prefer my drama with a bit more spice.

Marvin’s Room never transcends its everyday realism and never really puts any of its characters to the fire. At one point Hank says something to Bessie that his therapist told him, and which he has evidently taken as gospel—that no one ever does anything just to be nice. Meaning that no matter how selfless a person’s action might seem in truth that person is doing it to serve themselves. This is a fascinating question but the play never treats it as much more than a frustrated young man’s rash misapprehension. To be sure, Bessie responds exactly the way a person like her would respond to a seventeen-year-old boy asserting such a thing, and then the issue is forgotten. I would have liked to see where a deeper exploration of it might have lead.

photos by Joan Marcus

Marvin’s Room
Roundabout Theatre Company
American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street
ends on August 27, 2017
for tickets, call 212.719.1300 or visit Roundabout

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