There has been a recent trend in Chicago theater for artists and directors who want to work together taking the initiative to develop productions to facilitate those aspirations. Such “all-star” collaborations have resulted in some really great theater.
While they would probably be far too modest to tout it themselves, Doreen Dawson and Shannon Mayhall easily fall under that all-star level of talent. Their current co-starring effort for iambe theatre ensemble is a prime example of the brilliance that can be achieved when talented people seek out other talented people with the goal of creating something special.
All theatrical undertakings are special in one way or another. I do not mean to diminish the beauty of anyone’s experiences in the arts. But there are certain collaborations that have a magical shimmer to them. Those in the theater know there is something special being created.
iambe theatre ensemble is a company whose producing talents include Dawson, Mayhall, and Liz Recht Johnson. The company serves to fill a void of not enough meaty roles for females over 50. Their first production, Gidion’s Knott, was an intense drama that received rave reviews while addressing that purpose.
The theater company now makes a triumphant return to Elgin Art Showcase with a thrillingly entertaining and robust production of the dark comedy The Roommate by Jen Silverman. The production runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through November 6th and is highly recommended.
The Roommate premiered in 2015 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. The current barebones production by iambe theatre ensemble is under the subdued and masterful direction of Sean Hargadon. Hargadon has that rare ability to know when to sit back and let two gifted artists create and when to nudge them in directions that can achieve an even greater potential.
Dawson plays Sharon, a simple, small-town Iowa woman fresh on the heels of divorce. Her entire life has been about taking care of her husband and her son. Her son is now grown and out of the house, living in New York. Her husband is now out of the picture.
Sharon decides to take out an advertisement for a roommate and winds up with Robyn (Mayhall) who comes to Iowa by way of the Bronx. She’s a woman looking to get as far away from her past as possible. Rather naive and living in a town where people don’t lock their front doors, Sharon hadn’t thought to ask much about Robyn’s background when she agreed to invite her to live in her home.
Robyn’s background is unconventional to say the least. It’s definitely not like anything Sharon has ever been exposed to outside of on television or in the movies. The period of the play is definitely within the Internet age, but back when landlines were the norm and caller ID wasn’t.
Dawson is brilliant as the bubbly middle-aged Sharon, a woman who hadn’t expected to be starting over at her age but wants to embrace it as an opportunity.
Mayhall instills in Robyn a playful yet sinister darkness. As the play progresses, her walls start to come down leading to some surprising revelations about her past.
As each step of Robyn’s past becomes exposed, her homemaker roommate Sharon takes another step south of virtuous and proper. Eventually their lives become intertwined.
The beauty of the Elgin Art Showcase performance space is that it can be configured to accommodate almost any kind of staging. For this mounting of The Roommate, director Hargadon has chosen an in-the-round staging. The playing area features a central kitchen table and chairs, a few necessary amenities, and an implied porch. Hargadon and his performers make sure to use the space with the utmost efficiency. There is no bad seat in the house – but it is a small house, so I encourage you to order your tickets fast. You don’t want to miss these two dynamic performers.
The Roommate is a 90 minute one-act play that is performed without intermission. In addition to directing the production, Hargadon designed the lights and sound. Matt Hordyke runs these tech elements with his usual praiseworthy talents.
Johnson serves as assistant director and co-stage manager. The other co-stage manager is Jude Cavallaro who also serves as props manager. Graphic design is by Matt Hellyer and social media and marketing is by Heidi Swarthout.
iambe theatre ensemble is an example of really talented people getting together to create a top-quality entertainment product. And the results are worth it. It’s not a big budget production, but it’s damn good.
If you can afford a few streaming services at home to veg out to the latest blockbusters, you can probably also afford to support the local performing arts community with a night out to the theater once a month.
Doreen Dawson is an incredible actress. Shannon Mayhall is equally divine. Sean Hargadon is a great director. iambe theatre ensemble’s The Roommate is worth your time and your money. Support the arts and see this excellent production during its limited run through November 6th.
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sunday afternoons at 2 PM. The Elgin Art Showcase is located on the 8th Floor of the Professional Building at 164 Division Street in downtown Elgin. It shares access with the Hemmens Cultural Center to the spacious City Hall free outdoor parking lot.
Tickets are $22 and worth every penny. For tickets visit: www.tinyurl.com/iambe
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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