A new production of the 1991 play "Marvin's Room" opened on Broadway on Thursday night. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.
Shortly after Scott McPherson wrote "Marvin's Room" in the early 90s, he said that dying has become a way of life. He was referring to the scourge of AIDS, which had already infected his partner and was soon to take his own life. And while AIDS is never specifically referenced in the play, death and dying are very much in its focus.
And yet this is not a morbid play; it's a very human one, told with humor, resignation, and greats gobs of empathy.
Bessie is a good soul, almost saintly in her commitment to her ailing family. Her bedridden father, the unseen Marvin, has been dying for 20 years as she puts it, suffering from debilitating strokes and assorted illnesses. She's spent most of her life caring for him and her aunt Ruth, who is addled from brain surgery. It's not been easy, and yet she does it not so much out of a sense of familial duty but rather, loving devotion.
But an even greater challenge emerges when Bessie is diagnosed with leukemia and needs a life-saving bone marrow transplant. She contacts her estranged sister Lee, who's dealing with her own family issues. Her troubled son Hank tried to burn down the house and now lives in a juvenile home, and her younger son is not doing well in school.
Bessie's disease reunites them, and what follows is a most gentle and obviously personal story of the power of love to transcend life's dark turns. Under Anne Kauffman's sensitive direction, the pacing is slow at times, though McPherson's wonderfully low-key humor, particularly in the first act, enlivens the sad storyline.
And the cast is excellent. Celia Weston expertly underplays Ruth's ditzy innocence; Janeane Garofalo makes an impressive Broadway debut as the controlling Lee; Jack Difalco as the disturbed Hank is a major talent; and in a role that could so easily turn maudlin, Lili Taylor's naturalistic performance is downright life-affirming.
Today, as the health care debate rages in Congress, "Marvin's Room" has newfound relevance. But even without a timely hook, this is in essence a universal story about love and compassion in the face of profound suffering.