Credit: Michael Brosilow

Like a host of contemporary playwrights, New Yorker Jen Silverman hasn’t
fully discerned the difference between creating characters and assembling
signifiers. In her 2015 play, given an unfailingly agreeable Steppenwolf
staging under Phylicia Rashad’s good-natured direction, she erects two
strategically differentiated fiftysomething women from theatrical sign
posts. Sharon is Domestic Innocence: an Iowa divorcee who doesn’t go out
much, thinks most New Yorkers are gay, and uses words like “joshing” with a
straight face. Robyn is Exotic Experience: a vegan potter and slam poet
from the Bronx who buys vegetables from a co-op and grows her own
“medicinal herbs.” When Robyn answers Sharon’s ad for a roommate, the pair
do a fair amount of comedic sitting around displaying their inescapable
differences.

The first third of this 90-minute two-hander feels like an excellent
sitcom, with abundant nuance provided by Sandra Marquez (Sharon) and Ora
Jones (Robyn), two of Chicago’s most compelling and thoughtful actors, here
enlivening material well below their pay grade. But then Silverman starts
injecting dark—well, darkish—elements into the mix, mostly flowing from the
nefarious past Robyn is trying to escape, and the pair clash as Sharon
makes reckless, ever-more-improbable choices (although none so improbable
as scenic designer John Iacovelli’s choice to render Sharon’s modest
kitchen at approximately 500 square feet).

Silverman pushes her characters to what might be a heartrending climax, as
one flees and the other collapses. But the play’s schematic nature results
in mostly unearned sentiment.   v