Touching drama, top-notch cast in Circle Theatre’s ‘Marvin’s Room’
Amanda Hartley (left) and Elizabeth Morgan in a scene from Circle Theatre’s production of "Marvin’s Room."
At Circle Theatre, 1010 Madison St., Oak Park, through Sept. 30. $24-$28 adults, $26 students and seniors. Performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. on Sunday. (708) 660-9540 or http://www.circle-theatre.org
Updated: September 7, 2012 10:53AM
Circle Theatre’s highly commendable production of Scott McPherson’s touching 1990 drama “Marvin’s Room” hits home as it exposes a torn family’s mounting physical and emotional suffering.
The playwright, who died of complications from AIDS at the age of 33, shows a strong empathy for his characters. People in his script are vividly drawn and the weighty subject matter is nicely tempered with a welcome dose of humor.
For years, Bessie has remained in Florida and devoted herself as primary caretaker of Marvin, her ailing, bedridden father, and Ruth, an increasingly dependant elderly aunt with a bad back, failing memory and addiction to TV soap operas.
But now Bessie, who lost her mother to leukemia, suddenly finds herself in the cross hairs of the same disease. Her best hope at finding a bone marrow match rests with a long-estranged sister, Lee, or her two boys, one of whom was just released from a mental institution after he burned down their home in Ohio.
A self-centered, struggling single mom with a short fuse, Lee reluctantly reunites with the sibling she had severed ties with nearly two decades ago.
Initially, the two sisters are at odds. Lee quotes an observation by her 17-year-old son Hank’s psychiatrist that “nobody ever does anything just to be nice.” However, Bessie denies the implied criticism of how she has spent her time, insisting she was lucky to have “dad and Ruth in my life ... lucky to have had someone so much to love.”
There’s a particularly heartfelt scene in which Bessie expresses a desire for a reconciliation — something more than a forced polite relationship — with her sister. Lee, a hairdresser, eventually softens to her sister’s illness and volunteers to work on Bessie’s scraggly wig.
Director Mary C. Redmon makes the most of Circle’s compact studio theater space, and her top-notch cast works well together.
In a sensitive portrayal, Amanda Hartley glows as Bessie, the selfless caregiver who exhibits an inner strength beyond her years. Elizabeth Morgan is unselfconsciously glib as Lee. Kate Kisner brings out the best of the flaky but warm-hearted aunt who has a robotic implant in her back that’s forever triggering the garage door opener; and Todd Aiello does good work as the conflicted Hank.
Others in the outstanding cast include Eliza Shin, adding humor as the quirky, ill-at-ease Dr. Wally; Paul Chakrin, as her bubbleheaded assistant and also as the voice of the unseen Marvin; Lliana Mitchell, as the aloof retirement home director; and Danny Mulae, as Hank’s impressionable younger brother.