The Column Online


by Scott McPherson

Circle Theatre

Directed by Harry Parker
Stage Manager - Sara Harris
Set Design - Clare Floyd DeVries
Lighting Design - John Leach
Costume Design - Drenda Lewis
Properties Design - John Harvey
Sound Design - David H.M. Lambert


Julienne Greer as Bessie
Chad Patrick Smith as Dr. Wally
Ouida White as Ruth
Eric Dobbins as Bob
Jennifer Engler as Lee
Judy Keith as Dr. Charlotte
Roy Parker as Hank
Tyler Krieg as Charlie
Krista Scott as Retirement Home Director

Reviewed Performance: 5/28/2011

Reviewed by Lyle Huchton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Playwright Scott McPherson, who was suffering with AIDS when he wrote Marvin's Room, had written, "Now I am 31 and my lover has AIDS. Our friends have AIDS. And we all care for each other; the less sick caring for the more sick. At times an unbelievably harsh fate is transcended by a simple act of love, by caring for another. By most, we are thought of as "dying". But as dying becomes a way of life, the meaning blurs."*

Although Marvin's Room was not meant to be autobiographic McPherson had to draw on his own experiences to be able to render such a funny and poignant look at the way we see illness and dying. Marvin's Room is now onstage at Circle Theatre in Fort Worth.

Written in 1990 Marvin's Room premiered at The Goodman Theater in Chicago, winning the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work. It then went on to Playwrights Horizons and to Off-Broadway, winning the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Play. The success for McPherson was short lived. He lost his battle with AIDS only two months after the play closed in 1992. The plot focuses on Bessie who has moved to Florida with her father Marvin to help care for her ailing Aunt Ruth.

Marvin suffers a stroke that leaves him bed ridden and Bessie discovers that she has leukemia and her only hope for survival is to contact her long alienated sister Lee to see if her bone marrow is compatible for a transplant. Lee reluctantly agrees to make the trip and brings along her two sons. The older troubled boy Hank has just been released from a mental hospital after he burned the family home to the ground, and the younger son Charlie is shy and sensitive and finds comfort in reading, allowing books to be his only friends. The reunion of the families is less than perfect when past offenses and deep-rooted hostilities start to surface.

Much like a master watercolor painter, the collective acting ensemble delicately layered one translucent emotion on another until they reached rich saturation that allowed McPherson's text to be renewed and accessible.

As the older caregiver sister Bessie, Julienne Greer understood the complete circle her character had to make. Starting out she gave Bessie a loveable quirkiness that helped her deliver the scripts more humorous lines with perfect timing and believability. She did lose her way in the second act with a story she told about her first love, over anticipating the tragic ending. It was a slight slip on a moving and truthful performance.

Jennifer Engler played the superficial and somewhat misunderstood other sister Lee. Ms. Engler pinpointed the characters inner conflicts and allowed them to surface. In her first scene when she was visiting her son in a mental health facility her denial about his condition was played with sincerity. As much as she wanted to convince herself that Hank was fine there was still was an underlining sense of fear that she was the true cause of his illness.

Ouida White was an endearing Aunt Ruth. Her deeply moving monologue about the will of God was not only humorous but heartbreaking.

Roy Parker played the neglected Hank and Tyler Krieg was the younger, more sensitive Charlie. Both young men did a fine job capturing each of their characters motivation. Although Mr. Krieg did physically embody the young Charlie I felt there was a bit of lost innocence missing from his performance because of his age. Chad Patrick Smith also gave a memorable performance as the forgetful but caring Dr. Wally.

Set designer Clare Floyd DeVries took inspiration for her color palette from hospitals and institutions. The floor was painted a certain shade of green that was the color most doctors have for their scrub uniforms. The back wall was curtained off with a print fabric that could have been a hospital room privacy curtain. The curtain was split in several places allowing free access for the actors' entrances and exits. She used small movable furniture pieces to help expedite scene changes. A metal cart became the doctor's office. Two chairs and a small table was the waiting room. A padded bench propped up to become a hospital bed. By employing these inventive solutions she kept the action of the play moving without allowing too much of a break for scene changes.

Drenda Lewis' costumes helped establish the time period as 1990. To help with the progression of time she kept things simple by having the actors add a jacket or change a tie.

I took delight in John Harvey's Disneyland themed props. Not only did he use "Mouse" inspired balloons, hats, and T-shirts he even supplied the characters with authentic drink cups. It was this type of detail that helped make the other simplistic design concepts work.

One would think a play with overall themes of dysfunctional family relationships and mental and terminal illness would make for a very depressing evening. But Director Harry Parker did not allow his cast to tell such a story. Instead, what was produced was a beautiful and moving piece of theater about healing, laughter, and promise.

*Taken from Harry Parker's director notes in the Marvin's Room playbill.

Circle Theatre, 230 West Fourth Street, Ft Worth, Tx 76103
Runs through June 25

Thursdays @ 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8:00pm
Saturday matinees @ 3:00 pm

For tix or more info please call 817-877-3040 or go to