“The Roommate,” the second play produced by the iambe theatre ensemble, features both ensemble founders, Doreen Dawson and Shannon Mayhall. An intimate 90-minute contemporary two-character dramedy, it is set solely in an Iowa home, and is staged as theater-in-the-round.
The 2015 Jen Silverman play is perfect for these two leads, whose mission is to provide roles for mature females – “a demographic not seen enough in theater,” according to Dawson – and to tell stories “that not only entertain but inspire self-reflection and conversation,” according to Mayhall.
Director Sean Hargadon brings out the best in Dawson and Mayhall. Under his intelligent and creative direction, you see the depth and vulnerability of both characters with a touch of honest Midwest likability and practicality. Each well-paced scene exposes more about each character’s past and articulated hopes. And kudos to stage crew Liz Johnson and Jude Cavallaro for those quick scene changes.
The plot is a simple one: Recently divorced empty-nester Sharon (Dawson) is looking for a roommate to share her Iowa home and expenses. And it’s Robyn (Mayhall) who answers the ad, but she has a mysterious past. After all, she is from the Bronx, is a vegan, and dabbles in “medicinal herbs” (a very funny scene). Mayhall’s Robyn, naturally, is in direct opposition to that Midwestern attitude of Dawson’s Sharon. The tone is set when Mayhall enters the stage resplendent in a leather jacket, and carrying a multitude of boxes and even more emotional baggage. Dawson’s Sharon chattily, nervously, welcomes her and is so eager to please.
But over a short period of time, they reveal how much they really do have in common. There are many identifiable and delicious interwoven comments about Iowa, Illinois and Idaho (a state which apparently lacks culture until residents reach later life). There are unexpected moments and sobering concerns.
Mayhall and Dawson cannot be separated for acclaim. They are equally stellar in their impressive, energetic portrayals; they are both skilled actresses delivering incredible amounts of dialogue with very credible emotive presences onstage. Mayhall and Dawson are an irresistible duet of talents, both vibrant in “The Roommate’s” meaty, comically mismatched roles. They radiate charm in this play, which is intended for mature audiences.
Past critics have compared “The Roommate” to a mixture of “The Odd Couple/Breaking Bad/Thelma and Louise,” but this production, largely because of the constant chemistry of Mayhall and Dawson, is a reflective celebration of friendship and the life transformation of two characters in search of fresh starts. “The Roommate” is another engaging iambe theatre ensemble production – at times hilarious, more often poignant. And one not to be missed.
• Regina Belt-Daniels has been involved with theater since being cast as a rather bossy Mother Goose in a first-grade production. Ever since then, the smell of the grease paint and the roar of the crowd have guided her endeavors in directing, acting, stage managing, producing, serving on theater boards and writing theater reviews.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “The Roommate”
WHERE: Elgin Arts Showcase, 164 Division St., eighth floor, downtown Elgin
WHEN: Through Nov. 6
INFORMATION: Eventbrite at tinyurl.com/4hf38vvn