The Creative and Performing Arts Community (CPAC) takes theater back to its roots. Back to the days when flashy costumes and elaborate sets weren’t necessary. Back to the days when theater was an art, not a moneymaker. Back to the days when a powerful script and talented actors carried the show.
In the CPAC’s performance of the Marvin’s Room, directed by Austin Meyerson and Denis Bruxelles, an impressive cast tackles the daunting play by Scott MacPherson. Bessie (Ellen Safran) lives in Florida, taking care of her Aunt Ruth (Dhyana Paris) and dying father. For years Bessie is the caretaker, but then suddenly Bessie needs someone to take care of her when she is diagnosed with leukemia. Although her leukemia goes into remission, she still needs a bone marrow transplant.
And as usual, illness brings family together. Bessie’s estranged sister Lee (Marina Ioffe) and her two sons, Hank (Karl Bezak) and Charlie (Evan Dornby) fly to Florida to see if any of them are a match for the transplant.
But the relationships between the family members are anything but peachy. Lee and Hank, who is in a mental institution for burning down the family home, constantly fight and can’t see eye to eye. It’s hard to believe that Bessie and Lee came from the same parents. Yet, in the end, the blood ties prove stronger than the petty problems endured along the way.
The story is intricate, moving and complicated as it confronts death head on. The script engages the audience with its witty one-liners, usually spat from the mouth of Aunt Ruth. But it is the performances of the cast members that draw you in to the show.
Safran clearly carries the show as Bessie. She delivers each line with honesty and freshness and gives off an innocent demeanor that epitomizes Bessie. She begs the question, Why do bad things happen to good people? MacPherson clearly wants the audience to feel for her. And in CPAC’s performance, you do thanks to Safran. She never goes too far in her attempt to reel in the audience but teeters on that fine line between being emotional and gushing.
As Aunt Ruth, Paris plays a crucial role in the success of the show. It is Aunt Ruth’s humorous one-liners that combat the depressive air that permeates much of the show. Paris uses the stereotypical old lady voice, and it completely works. Aunt Ruth is a tad off-kilter (she’s obsessed with a soap opera and even gets dressed up for a wedding on the show) and Paris takes the eccentricities and sprints ahead with them. Her wry delivery is dead on and elicits audible laughs from the audience.
Bezar also gives a commendable performance as Hank, a confused and angry 17-year-old. The interactions between him and Bessie are heartfelt, and you can feel the connection between aunt and nephew. At times, however, Bezar goes too far with his delivery. His harsh words do not merely smack you in the face, but hit you over the head. As a result, you often see his role as a character instead of a real person.
Evan Dornby portrays Charlie, the foil of Hank. Charlie is the good mama’s boy who likes to read. However, Dornby shows Charlie’s admiration and love for his older brother. During the scenes between Charlie and Hank, Dornby and Bezar shine. They portray a typical brother-brother relationship. Charlie makes Hank appeal to the audience. Although Dornby doesn’t have many lines, he plays a critical part at the end of the show and proves his acting ability in two or three simple lines.
From the moment she walks on stage, Lee elicits an intense scorn from the audience. She is selfish and immature. Her disregard for her son and other family members is inconceivable to most, forcing you to despise her. However, Lee’s character evolves throughout the show and you witness that transformation. Ioffee takes you with Lee on her evolution. In the end, you see her in a new light and have a different feel for the character.
Neil Badlani, David Brody and Raj Perkh also give fine performances in supporting roles. Besides Aunt Ruth, they supply some comic relief. Badlani, as the spacey Dr. Wally, has a dry delivery that makes the audience smile. He appears in a few crucial scenes that allow you to fully understand the other characters.
You could easily call CPAC’s production of Marvin’s Room minimalist theater. The show is performed in the Mitchell Hall Theater, where a cool draft ushers in the scents of Subway and Little Caesars. There’s a makeshift stage and a low level of technical possibilities. But CPAC uses everything it has to the nth degree. The set includes a full size refrigerator and oven, which was purchased at a Goodwill store. The lighting, which is done by Meyerson and Jason Peller, establishes various feelings throughout the show. The shots of dawn are especially notable. The costumes, assembled by Bruxelles and Annie O’Neill, are nothing to rave about. But why talk about costumes when you can talk about the actual performances?
Each element of Marvin’s Room is executed in a professional manner. The show even has a stage manager, Mike Mattmiller. Forced to work within its circumstances, CPAC succeeds. After the emotionally draining show you can’t help but wonder what CPAC could do if they had more. However, the element that carries theater is not the stage or the costumes or the special effects, it is the acting. And that is why Marvin’s Room succeeds as true theater.
Marvin’s Room will be performed Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. in the Mitchell Hall Theater. Tickets cost $3.