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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Marvin’s Room (Roundabout Theatre Company)





By Harry Forbes

Lili Taylor is wonderfully believable and endearing as Bessie, a good Samaritan taking care of her long-term ailing father (offstage) who has been incapacitated by a stroke for the past 20 years in Florida. But overall, this is a worthy but rather muted revival of Scott McPherson’s 1990 play (later a high-profile movie with Meryl Streep) which has never played on Broadway.

McPherson died of AIDS two years after the play was first done, and though there’s plenty of humor here, the tone is bittersweet.

Janeane Garofalo is Lee, the sister who abjured the caregiving responsibility of both their father (the titular Marvin) and their aunt soap opera-addicted Ruth (very likeable and underplayed Celia Weston) to her sister. But when Bessie is diagnosed with leukemia.

Lee shows up with her troubled teenage son Hank (sympathetic Jack DeFalco) -- who once set fire to their house and is now institutionalized -- and sweet younger brother Charlie (nicely played by Luca Padovan). One of them may be a bone marrow match for Bessie. Garofalo and Taylor do seem plausible sisters, but I think Garofalo needs to give Lee more of an edge.

Triney Sandoval has some funny moments in the rather caricatured role of an alarmingly absent-minded doctor at the roach-infested clinic where Bessie goes for treatment, and there’s capable work from Carman Lacivita as both the offstage voice of Marvin and Dr. Wally’s brother, and Nedra McClyde as two of the medical professionals encountered by Bessie.

Anne Kauffman directs her cast in too low-keyed naturalistic style that not only robs the play of tension, and causes some audibility problems, too. The dialogue is, at times, just too conversational.

At times, the pace tends to drag, though perhaps it’s mostly a case of the stage being too darned big for such an intimate drama, and Laura Jellinek’s panoramic glass brick set (lighted by Japhy Weideman) doesn’t help encourage more focus.

Despite the production’s flaws, the play’s themes of unequivocal love and selfless caring remain touching.

(American Airlines Theatre on Broadway, 227 West 42nd Street; 212.719.1300 or roundabouttheatre.org; through August 27)
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