Home invaders: Shadow Theatre’s The Roommate

Shadow Theatre’s season opener will have you thinking about your experiences with roommates, past or present. This two-hander, written by New York playwright Jen Silverman, features Coralie Cairns and Nadien Chu as a pair of middle-aged women who become roommates in small town Iowa. Sharon (Cairns) is a divorcée living a quiet life; she wears a lot of beige. Robyn is a vegan lesbian who recently moved from The Bronx trying to escape from her former life as a con artist.

Both performers are convincing in their roles. Cairns does a great job playing the homey, book-club-bound mom who repeats the same tired old stories; Chu is mysterious and cagey, breezing about the stage in a flowy silk bathrobe with her weird vegetables and weirder houseplants. On the surface, the story sounds fairly prosaic and the characters two-dimensional. Silverman’s script elevates itself from this, though only a bit – it’s basically just another rehashing of the Big-City-meets-Small-Town trope and never becomes particularly clever or daring.

Coralie Cairns and Nadien Chu in The Roommate. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux Photography.

Cairns and Chu find ways to make these roles their own and they play off one another well, without making the plot pivots – and boy, are there some hairpins – too jarring. However, the real-life age difference between the two performers gives a bit of an odd tilt to the show. “We are old people!” declares Sharon (Cairns), early on – but unfortunately Chu doesn’t quite look the part. It’s a bit disorienting.

Age difference aside, the show is congenial and fun. Cairns plays up her character’s naivete and lack of street smarts for some easy laughs. Chu counterbalances this through nonchalance, then drops the cool kid act and reveals Robyn’s own insecurities and anxieties. Things escalate, quickly, and the performers have to work hard to convince us that these shifts mostly make sense.

The ending doesn’t wrap things up nicely, but instead unspools the story further and leaves us hanging, with unresolved questions and emotions. It’s like how so many actual relationships end up. Only, you know, maybe not including the kitchen table laden with cash and drugs.

Want to hear more about this show? Listen to this episode of the podcast. 

 

The Roommate

Until Sunday, Nov 10

Varscona Theatre


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