Room for family

Marvin’s Room

Rated 3.0

The topic is never even mentioned in Scott McPherson’s script, but Marvin’s Room is almost an AIDS play: the bedridden loved one (heard moaning in a bedroom), the clutter of prescription bottles on the kitchen counter (and the reminders to take the pills on time), and the grim medical diagnosis that’s faintly foretold.

One can imagine how these materialized in the playwright’s mind. McPherson, a rising literary star, was HIV positive and died (at 33) in November ’92—less than a year after Marvin’s Room opened off-Broadway. (He wrote the screenplay, but didn’t live to see the 1996 film or complete another play.)

Yet unlike many AIDS plays, including several we admire (Angels in America, and Love! Valour! Compassion!), Marvin’s Room isn’t angry or dark. And the references to sexuality barely rate a blip.

This play is all about family—including differences between sisters who haven’t stayed in touch. It’s also about strained relationships between generations, including a kid who’s done something shocking. These problems are overcome (or at least mitigated) through unconditional love and acceptance, even when love is sometimes rebuffed. And this is surely material that McPherson understood, as well. (He grew up in Ohio, in a large, religious family.)

Lastly, Marvin’s Room falls into the quirky subgenre of “weird Florida” comedies (think chemotherapy, cockroaches and Disney World).

This production by Imprint Theatre features sturdy performances by several midlife community actors with university training, plus the plump, wonderful Susan Madden (a hoot as Aunt Ruth, addicted to her soaps). Performed in a screened-off portion of a big room, director Kelly Archer’s visual presentation is long and linear—a sequence of small sets (representing a living room, a doctor’s office, etc.) on a stage that spreads as far left-to-right as a bowling alley is long. You aren’t always close to the actors—but they wear head mics, which helps.