The Wonder of "Marvin's Room"
First of all, I must confess that I often forgot reality while watching the play. As I started to laugh, I would immediately scold myself for doing so, nervous that I was being disrespectful towards the people on stage who had suffered so much. Then, realizing that I was watching a play, that these people were acting, that this play was supposed to be funny, I would let myself go.
I think this speaks to how well the characters were played. Amazing performances by Meryl Prendergast, Kyra Fichman, Jenny Wolicki, Izzy Johnson, and Sung Ahn, among others, created characters that were funny, relatable, and vulnerable. The performances are especially impressive when one considers the deep subject matter of the play. The story centers around a woman named Bessie, who has spent many years taking care of her invalid father, Marvin, and her aunt, Ruth. When Bessie is diagnosed with leukemia, her sister, Lee, who had refused to share the burden of taking care of Marvin, visits Bessie with her two sons. Over the course of the play, the many broken relationships between the characters, from Bessie and Lee to Lee and her rebellious son, start to heal.
A particularly moving scene was when Bessie (Meryl Prendergast) took off her wig, allowing Lee (Kyra Fichman) to see her baldness for the first time. As she did so, the audience realized that Bessie, who had lost her hair during the cancer treatment, was finally opening herself up to her sister, letting go of the cold wall that had built up over their many years of separation. The brief silence that ensued as Bessie handed Lee her wig added to the pure vulnerability of the moment and was mirrored in the silence of the audience as we collectively held our breaths, not wanting the strangely beautiful moment to end. The actresses’ hesitation and shy expressions were in fact so convincing and made the scene so entrancing that many jumped when Ruth unexpectedly walked into the kitchen.
These serious moments were balanced by comical ones. We laughed when Dr. Wally (Sung Ahn) brought in sterile materials to test his patient, Bessie, only to rip a package open with his teeth. We were amused when we watched the well played confusion of the retirement home director (Shelby Luongo) as she looked into the bowl of candy on the retirement home table to find that it was filled not with sweets but with money. (Lee had taken the candy, and, as she would not put it back in the bowl, Bessie decided to pay for the “stolen” candy by placing money into the bowl.) The exuberant enthusiasm of Dr. Wally’s assistant, Bob (Tyler Czyras), made the audience chuckle, and we laughed all the more when we learned that the eccentric assistant was the brother of the equally eccentric Dr. Wally.
Overall, the play was an effortless blend of deep emotion and humor. As the actors took their bows and the audience rose for a standing ovation, I recall feeling a whirl of emotions that can be summed up in a single word: wow.