Editor’s Note: Regular readers of Picture this Post theater reviews will recognize the names of Sharai Bohannon and Nate Hall. Both are playwrights and work in the theater world in various capacities. Sharai, most notably, plays a leading role in Chicago’s Feminist Theater, Artemisia. Nate, who is also a composer and actor, is about to have his first leading role (Emperor Nero) since he moved to Chicago earlier this year.
They also have in common, of course, that they each pen theater reviews for Picture this Post. The inside story is that their friendship began in Texaswhere they were both Theater studentsbefore they each moved to Chicago. Picture this Post asked Nate Hall (NH) and Sharai Bohannon (SB) to see Steppenwolf’s new production, THE ROOMMATE, together. Now, you can be a fly on the wall, listening in on how these two up and coming Theater people in the Chicago scene experience a production by the theater company that no doubt helped put Chicago on their ‘theater map”.
A Fresh Take on City Meets Country
NH:What’s really interesting about [this play] is that the usual dynamic between a city slicker and a country bumpkin is usually an older country bumpkin and a young city slicker...
SB: And they’re men.
NH:In the usual setup you hear the older character saying things like “We take it easy out here city slicker.” Here though, it was two older women (Robyn, played by Ora Jones and Sharon, played by Sandra Marquez), which is intriguing. Just this lovely, almost Grace and Frankie-esque feel. Older women having to rediscover themselves, having to find who they are again, and having lost touch with whom they thought they were. A cool coming together. And it was also really really cool that although they had these wildly different backgrounds,that they immediately accepted each other.
SB: And also we need more of that. Here are some differences that are actual differences, but we have the same moral foundation. Robyn (Ora Jones) is kind of a schemer, we find out, but at the same time she wants to be a nice person.
NH: [The play] doesn't normalize the polarization. Normal people aren’t that polarized.
SB: The playwright is saying—“... let's find small things that it's OK to disagree on.”
NH: It's not “I'm homophobic.” It's “I've never encountered homosexuality. So I'm taking it the best I can.”
SB: As an African-American who lived in a small college towns for six years, explaining to people you can’t use the word “colored” becomes routine, so it’s easy to appreciate these [characters] saying “…no, let’s hear each other out.”
Steppenwolf Theatre Brings Subtle and Soothing Imagery
NH: The set was really cool!...The first impression was that the space was too big, kind of an apartment from the TV show Friends. But then one of the first comments out the door was “there's so much space in this house.” Weird space addressed immediately.
SB: Besides the placement of the stove, it’s an Iowa kitchen. The set says-- she has a lot of money; maybe more than she’s supposed to have.
And also everyone was wearing something comfortable! So many times lesbian characters are dressed to look like men, and Robyn wasn’t.
NH: [Robin wore] this regal scarlet nightgown--sophisticated, but worn. Or maybe, a better way to describe it is sophisticated but homey.
SB: Just enough money was made to make it her comfortable.
NH: This show did kind of a lovely thing where they have these lovely passage of time lights in between. Gorgeous! …the cars coming in…
SB: ...the rain.
NH: And also when it was late at night, and they had a warm light just coming down on the table—it created a perfect feel for Robin coming in and starting to roll a joint.
SB: [Xavier Pierce, Lighting Designer] did a really good job!
Closeness Breeds Strain and Struggle
NH: Most of all, this is a story about the yearning for closeness but not wanting that closeness to be fabricated or forced. That was really there. Sharon wanted [her son] to call, but not because she made him.
SB: Did she get the roommate just because she was lonely? You wonder if she had Robyn move in just to have someone to talk to. But then it escalated so quickly...
NH: The monologue…
SB: When she was talking to her friend she didn’t like.
NH: Yeah, that was her turning point as far as ownership of herself.
SB: Like that little sister who wants to be doing whatever you’re doing, “I wanna try it, I wanna try it!” “No, get out of my room!”
NH: The one thing that may have made our viewing difficult was the audience [that night].
SB: Yes, the audience was obviously packed with lots of friends and family.
NH:Yes, that scene when Sharon’s breaking stuff is supposed to be a more dramatic moment. Perhaps it would have been even more dramatic without such a strong humorous reaction from that audience of friends and family.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Thru August 5, 2018
Saturday 3:00 and 7:00
Sunday Varied Times
1650 N Halsted St.
Samantha C. Jones
Laura D. Glenn
Christine D. Freeburg
About the Author
Sharai Bohannon is a playwright, and an avid theatre practitioner, who is very excited to write about most things but especially Chicago Theatre. She has a background in journalism and technical theatre and is excited that those degrees will be put to use in a way that gives her an excuse to leave her couch and brave this “outside” that people keep telling her about. When not on her couch watching TV, she can be found working one of her multiple jobs and/or hunting down a happy hour near you. Read some of Sharai Bohannon’s New Works on New Play Exchange.