Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

The Roommate
West End Players
Review by Richard T. Green

Jane Abling and Julie George-Carlson
Photo by John Lamb
Earnest, warm-hearted laughter greets Jen Silverman's The Roommate, the cultural mismatch story of an empty-nester in rural America and her big city boarder, at West End Players. Sharon is a divorced mother in Iowa, and ex-New Yorker Robyn likewise has a grown child, but comes with a shady past at no extra cost. I have to keep reminding myself that there are lots of genuine chuckles throughout, in spite of the dubious originality of the play, which debuted at the Humana Festival in 2016.

Those laughs flow steadily thanks to accomplished actresses Jane Abling and Julie George-Carlson and director Sean Belt. One of the real pitfalls of being a critic is that you may forget whether you laughed or not, a few hours later, as you step back and measure one play against a dozen others in your head. The Roommate is one of those shows where you laugh mainly because the performers bring emotional subtlety to a script that can't survive without it. And, of course, because your laughter during any live theater performance may help loosen up the actors. But hours later, hunched over a laptop, the structural clichés seem overwhelming.

I could name far better scripted comedies that West End has produced in the last five years or so: Mr. Marmalade, The Ice Fishing Play , Great Falls and The Great Seduction were all outstanding. And yet, there are a couple of moments where Ms. Silverman's writing shows some originality. One is when Ms. Abling, as Sharon, discovers she gets a real thrill from defrauding another woman in her book club; another when Robyn (Ms. George-Carlson) bids a semi-anonymous farewell at the end. In her nascent swindling phase, Sharon's accent veers comically through Normandy, Stockholm and Glasgow, all in a single phone call, in a wayward attempt to sound "foreign" to a mark. And, consistently, Ms. George-Carlson shows a dour suspicion that keeps the tension alive. The structure the actresses bring to their characters is more interesting than the structure of the show itself.

But the playwright giveth, and the playwright taketh away. The script steals at least two potentially good moments from the actresses: once when a pile of money appears on a kitchen counter after a set change; and then again when a number of moving boxes disappear from the porch, also during a scene break. Both amount to plot twists, which take place without any involvement of the actors. Is this the once-in-a-lifetime moment where I credit the backstage crew for advancing the story? Will there ever be awards for Best Stagehand? Would they ever have time to stop scurrying on and off to make an acceptance speech if they could?

The Roommate runs through March 1, 2020, at West End Players, Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Ave. (north of Delmar Blvd.), St. Louis MO. For tickets and information please visit

Sharon: Jane Abling
Robyn: Julie George-Carlson

Production Staff:
Director: Sean Belt
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Carrie Phinney
Scenic Designer: George Shea
Costumes: Tracey Newcomb
Lighting Designer: Tony Anselmo
Props Design and Acquisition: Dani Mann
Sound Designer: Chuck Lavazzi
Master Carpenter: Jacob Winslow
Sound Operator: Mary Beth Winslow
Light Board Operator: Nik Winslow
Publicity: Mark Abels
Box Office Manager: Danny Austin
Graphic Artist: Marjorie Williamson
Program Design: Nathan Schroeder