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Review - Marvin’s Room: family bonds reunite Marvin’s family

By Lilian Harrington

Marvin’s Room

By Scott McPherson

Directed by Roslyn Johnson

Ad Astra Theatre Coy.

57 Misterton St. Valley

Performance Dates: September 1-24, 7 30pm

Bookings: Try booking or Ph. 0417001292

Described as an acerbic bitter sweet comedy, Marvin’s Room is written by the late American writer, Scott McPherson. The play has been nominated for several Drama Desk awards along with some Broadway runs, it was later adapted into a movie by John Guare. Set in Florida, USA , in the 1990s, it tells the story of Bessie and her estranged sister Lee, who are confronted by a serious family crisis. It shows family entanglement, frustrations, aged care and carer fatigue, mental health issues, and conflicts, experienced by the family in their everyday life.

Bessie, played convincingly, by Fiona Kennedy, is a very strong willed independent woman, who has devoted over 20 over years of her life caring for her sick father Marvin (never seen), and her Aunt Ruth, (Phillipa Bow) crippled with back pain, but now trialing a recent cure which has meant having an electronic implant that even sets the off the garage door at times!

Bessie has recently been diagnosed with leukemia, and has asked her estranged sister Lee and two sons, to come south so they can be tested for a possible bone marrow donor for her. The initial reunion between the sisters, Lee and Bessie is awkward, along with Lee’s two difficult sons; the older son, Hank, only increases the tension. However, Bessie finds a way to befriend Hank, who is on leave from a mental institution,(after he burned down his mother’s home), and with his younger brother Charlie, they start to conform. Both Aunt Ruth and Marvin demand more caring so the two sisters must find a way to overcome their differences; the wild and tempestuous Lee starts to show more understanding of the importance of family ties; the need to help out, and family responsibility, as she sees her sister ‘s health decline.

Director Roslyn Johnson, assisted by Meg Louise Snieder, has focused on the importance of family bonds and the difficulties families face. She has cast some very talented actors, led by Fiona Kennedy (Bessie) and Elise Lamb (Lee) and they are supported by two very convincing teenage actors, Jayden McGinlay ( Hank) and Kieran McGinlay (Charlie) plus Tom Harwood( Dr Wally), Marita McVeigh (Dr Charlotte) and Nicholas Sayers( Bob).

This play makes an important statement on family, but opening night saw some lapses in the detail, which could be improved. For instance, audibility was difficult at times, and this left the audience wondering what the line intention was, as clearer projection was needed and some action needed to be more defined. Phillipa Bow as Aunt Ruth, would have been more believable if she hadn’t been wearing a rather distracting wig. Her own hair would’ve been more in character.

Further, some of the props used needed to be more believable e.g. a cup supposedly filled with coffee was used by the actor and showed that there was nothing in it. In a smaller theatre the audience is closer to the props, which need to be convincing. In comparison, the lighting design was effective and featured a beautiful light display reflected in Marvin’s windows. The stage design meant that a large area was filled up with Marvin’s room. This limited other stage action to some degree because it necessitated some of the action being brought forward downstage, which in turn meant that some of this action wasn’t always seen easily by some audience.

This play is a study of the difficulties a family can face; it shows how family bonds bring a family back together when it counts.

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