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The Roundabout Theatre Company Presents "Marvin’s Room" at the American Airlines Theatre
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The Roundabout Theatre Company Presents "Marvin’s Room" at the American Airlines Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights
A Tavern On Restaurant Row
346 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036
Bettibar 5 PM - 4 AM!
Kitchen 4 PM - Late!
Weekend Brunch!

Dining & Private Events!
Tri-Level Historical Venue!
Pecan Encrusted Tilapia!
Pan Seared Lump Crabcakes!
Bettibar's Bourbon Sour!

Roundabout Theatre Company
Todd Haimes, Artistic Director/CEO
Julia C. Levy, Executive Director
Sydney Beers, General Manager
Steve Dow, Chief Administrative Officer
In association with:
David Binder and Sharon Karmazin

Janeane Garofalo, Lili Taylor
Celia Weston
Marvin’s Room
(Marvin’s Room Website)

By Scott McPherson
Directed by Anne Kauffman

With: Jack DiFalco, Carman Lacivita
Nedra McClyde, Luca Padovan, Triney Sandoval

At the
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 47th Street

Set Design: Laura Jellinek
Costume Design: Jessica Pabst
Lighting Design: Japhy Weideman
Sound Design & Original Music: Daniel Kluger
Hair & Wig Design: Leah J. Lukas
Movement Consultant: Thomas Schall
Production Stage Manager: Barclay Stiff
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA/Carrie Gardner, CSA
“Marvin’s Room” General Manager: Denise Cooper
Director of Marketing: Elizabeth Kandel
Director of Development: Christopher Nave
Adams Assoc. Artistic Director: Scott Ellis
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Press: Polk & Co.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 5, 2017

Two sisters, Bessie and Lee, melt an ice-cold, seventeen-year estrangement, when Bessie is diagnosed with aggressive Leukemia. This mostly understated 1991 play, originally seen Off-Broadway and in film, is woven with a silver lining of pathos and deflected humor. Playwright Scott McPherson’s magnetic family ensemble gathers in Bessie’s home in Florida, where Bessie cares for her father, Marvin, afflicted for decades from a stroke, and Marvin’s sister, Ruth, who suffers from a spinal condition. Lee, a wannabe cosmetologist, arrives by car from Ohio, with her seventeen year-old son, Hank, on emergency leave from a mental institution, and her younger son, Charlie, who loses himself in his books. The purpose of the visit is for Bessie’s sister, Lee, and nephews, Hank and Charlie, to be tested for bone marrow matches that might save Bessie’s life. In the intimacy of the reunion, the deadened sibling relationship breathes life, as Bessie stoically struggles with her weakened condition. In the back room lies Marvin, whom we never see beyond his opaque shadows.

Mr. McPherson wrote this work during his partner’s demise from AIDS, and the playwright died a year later, too, from the illness. The courage of the formerly detached family to rise above its emotional instincts, with warmth and generosity of spirit, shone throughout both acts. Janeane Garofolo is a biting, bitter Lee, whose son Hank, Jack DiFalco, had burned down their family home in a fit of pique. Lee and Hank’s relationship softens before our eyes, as Lee sees Hank newly bonding with Aunt Bessie, whom he carries like a wounded bird. The youthful Mr. DiFalco morphs from seething to sensitive. Lili Taylor, as Bessie, is exquisitely drawn, even in her initial hospital scene, as she has her first tests with a cartoonish Dr. Wally (Triney Sandoval). This is a doctor who’s supposed to keep names correct, on laboratory blood vials, and his comical forgetfulness was overwrought. Future revivals of the play might do well to shift this character’s foolish persona.

A shining star, throughout, was Celia Watson, as Ruth, who, like the offstage Marvin, has survived a disability through Bessie’s decades of selflessness. Ruth’s battery-operated pain diffuser for her spine, that also opens the garage door, plus her obsession with television soap operas, give Ms. Watson some of the play’s lighter moments. Carman Lacivita is both Bob, who works in the hospital lab, and the shadowed Marvin, who only seems to move when Bessie visits with a flashlight, to make luminous, moving shapes on the back room wall. Nedra McClyde fills out the cast as two minor characters, Dr. Charlotte, at Hank’s institution, and a Retirement Director, at a home Bessie and family visit, in a somewhat confusing scene. Anne Kauffman has directed this intimate play with too little projection of characters’ psyche and personality. The Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre is one of the largest in the city. Bessie’s words were often swallowed in the theater’s expanse, and nuanced gestures and body language needed to be front and center. Ultimately, this play was created for the small stage, and that’s where it should be seen. However, this cast was remarkable in drawing the eye and the ear.

Laura Jellinek’s scenic design includes props and wheels to portray a family trip to Disneyworld. Additionally, the slatted, wall coverings and fast-moving kitchen and living room of Bessie’s uncluttered home were impressive and perfectly suited to the concept of “opening walls of distance”. Jessica Pabst’s costumes were effective in scenes of shifting moods, and, along with Leah J. Loukas’ wigs, they were critical to Bessie’s visceral attempts to “dress up”. Japhy Weideman’s lighting worked beautifully, especially in the Disneyesque carnival scene. Daniel Kluger’s sound design kept much of the dialogue crisp, although Ms. Taylor’s requisite quietude did not resound through her sound device. Kudos to the cast for carrying the emotional weight of this poignant play with sophistication and persuasiveness.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at