Neil Simon’s mismatched Felix and Oscar got nothing on Sharon and Robyn, the unlikely friends in The Roommate, the dark and delightfully subtle Jen Silverman comedy on the boards at American Stage through April 7.
Actors Annie Fitzpatrick and Amy Resnick, respectively, play Sharon and Robyn, brought together by outrageous misfortune, even though they couldn’t be more different: Sharon is a highly strung, supremely uptight Iowan divorcee with a cupboard full of neuroses, while Robyn is a pot-smoking free spirit who’s tight-lipped about an obviously shady past on the New York mean streets.
Silverman’s play is more than just a variation on the well-worn theme Simon introduced in The Odd Couple way back when (after some petty squabbling, the two realize they have more in common than they thought). The Roommate isn’t a situation comedy, where there’s an easy solution to every problem. In fact, it’s pretty much equal parts comedy and drama.
Under Kristin Clippard’s nuanced direction, the American Stage production traces the bumpy, pitted arc of the women’s relationship; it’s not always pretty, but it’s always fascinating, and above all else it’s fiery and ultimately very, very funny. The story goes in several directions the audience will not see coming.
Although Fitzpatrick, who lives in Ohio, had never worked with American Stage, Resnick (based in California) directed Bad Jews for the theater last summer.
We spoke with them about characters, complexity and creating cool comedy. Although not particularly in that order.
How similar are you to your characters?
Annie: I like things neat and orderly, but I don’t think I’m cranked quite as tightly as she is. I think I’m probably a bit of a people-pleaser. Grew up Irish Catholic in Cincinnati, raised to be a nice girl, nice girls do certain things. But luckily I also had a lot of strong women in my family, who had careers, so I had a lot more freedom than Sharon had. Traveled a lot. When I read The Roommate, I actually thought “It’s embarrassing how much of a Sharon I am.” She’s me if I wasn’t lucky enough to have some opportunities and some mentors in my life who made my world bigger, and exposed me to other things.
I would have loved to play Robyn, just because it would have been a great challenge. Sharon is the more obvious fit for me. It would have been a whole different journey – and now, having worked with Amy, I just can’t imagine anyone else doing it! Because I am not that rogue, wandering around taking risks, saying it like it is, all those wonderful things about Robyn that Sharon is just so mesmerized by.
Amy: Hmmm. Well, I have never been arrested, nor broken any laws. Except when I was a kid I did steal that Mad Magazine book, Steal This Book. It was a paperback. I was like “I followed directions.” That was huge. I was born in Oakland, California, and I lived in New York for a long time, and in Los Angeles for a long time. Dad’s Brooklyn, Mom’s Lower East Side, and all my siblings except for one live in Brooklyn still. I am a New Yorker at heart. You’re raised with that DNA.
This is how this process works – for me, it’s so random. Like all of a sudden the voice will drop in when I find a vocal pattern. I was watching Russian Doll, and Natasha Lyonne pretty much sounds like Robyn. I lower my voice way down into my chest. These things just come exploding out of me, and I’m like “Where the hell did that come from?”
Annie: We did so much table work with Kristin, just sitting around and talking about these characters and pulling them apart. Because it’s a deceptive little play. It seems like a funny little Odd Couple, they’re just different … but she’s written two really complex women with interesting histories.
Amy: We’ve both been doing theater for so long – and film, and television. And I love working with all actors. But Annie and I just move through space well together. And there’s something about having a good dance partner that makes it so much easier.
The importance of chemistry
Amy: When there’s only two of you onstage, it could be a nightmare. And I think both of us thought that before, when we took the role. Because nowadays, auditions are all on film. You’re never in the same room.
Annie: You never even meet. You’re not auditioning in the same room. It’s just Skyping on laptops, from the shoulders up. You don’t even read together.
Amy: We didn’t know each other at all, or each other’s work.
Annie: I’d worked with Kristin on a couple of projects in Cincinnati, so I knew her, liked her, trusted her. Liked her aesthetic. So I thought “She’ll bring in somebody great.”
Amy (looking at Annie): When I met you, you just reminded me of one of my best friends. It was this weird, serendipitous thing. I was like “This is my best friend Carrie!”
Annie: It was just a great click, and the more we talked, the more “Oh my God” there was. Of course, we’re together a lot, we’re walking back and forth, we’re staying in the same apartments …
Amy: That’s how they make us bond! They make us live together!
Annie: Chained together!
Amy: I’m kidding. Different apartments. We all get a nice apartment.
Annie: It was very fun that we’d done some of the same roles, we knew some of the same people. It was natural and easy. We laugh and laugh and laugh together.
Tickets and info here.