The Actor’s Co-op Theatre Company is back in business! Ending its two-year pandemic hiatus, the award-winning group proudly presents MARVIN’S ROOM, winner of the 1991-1992 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play. Penned by Scott McPherson, sadly taken from us at the tender age of 33, MARVIN’S ROOM debuted in Chicago in 1990. An off-Broadway run followed in 1991 and performances in the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. in 1992. The play was so well received, in fact, that it was adapted as a film by John Guare from McPherson’s original script in 1996, with an all-star cast including Diane Keaton, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Bessie.
Marvin is an elderly bedridden man whom we never get to meet – but who triggers most of the action in the play anyway. Twenty years before the story opens, Marvin suffered a stroke and has been cared for ever since by his daughter Bessie (Francesca Casale). Eccentric Aunt Ruth (Crystal Yvonne Jackson) completes the family roster in the Florida home. Years ago, Marvin’s other daughter Lee (Tara Battani) moved to Ohio with her husband and has never made any effort to contact her family since she left. Lee raised her two sons, Hank (Dean Hermansen) and Charlie (Marek Meyers) after her husband left the family hearth prematurely.
Things begin to come to a boil when Hank sets fire to the family home, which leaves his mother and young brother pretty much homeless. When Lee finally visits Hank in the looney bin (her words) where he is living – burning down the family home being considered both a crime and some ill-defined mental aberration – family harmony is definitely at risk. Just before the visit, Bessie contacted Lee about her medical condition. It seems that Bessie has been diagnosed with leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant from a close match (with family members the most likely candidates). All things considered, it seems that a trip from Ohio to Florida is in order for Lee and her sons.
Playwright McPherson’s brilliant tale of a disjointed family in crisis will keep the audience glued to the bits and pieces of a shattered family history – while at the same time offering some well-needed chuckles and understanding head nods. Award-winning director Thomas James O’Leary does a superb job of helming this complex, potentially dark story with a light touch which gives permission for viewers to laugh at the bittersweet goings-on in the family home. O’Leary has the good fortune to be working with an excellent cast who know how to wring a tear or a smile – or both at the same time – from others. Kudos to Tara Battani and Francesca Casale as the sisters in the silent duel. And let’s not forget Dean Hermansen, who is the perfect pouty teenaged rebel who never fails to make his mother’s hackles rise to the occasion – and Crystal Yvonne Jackson, who keeps the chortles coming as the lovable aunt who isn’t quite all there.
The production crew has created a clever and functional setting for the play, with a special nod to Nicholas Acciani for his revolving rooms. Avery Reagan’s lighting, David B. Marling’s sound, and E.B. Brooks’ costumes round out a terrific family venue. This is an outstanding study of family life and challenged values. It will appeal to anyone with a family – which includes most of us. It also gets into some tricky family situations which make for thought-provoking questions.
MARVIN’S ROOM runs through March 27, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. There will be two special Saturday matinees at 2:30 p.m. on 3/5/22 and 3/12/22. The Actors Co-op performs at the David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower Street, Hollywood, CA 90028. Tickets are $35 (seniors $30; students $25; and special group rates and student rush Fridays). For information and reservations, call 323-462-8460 or go online.