The playbill didn’t say anything about a giant chipmunk that would come in halfway through act two, but The Kenyon College Dance and Dramatic Club (KCDC) is full of surprises.
This past Family Weekend, KCDC put on their production of Scott McPherson’s Marvin’s Room, Directed by Assistant Professor of Drama and Film James Dennen.The play centers on sisters Bessie and Lee, brought together by Bessie’s leukemia and the hope that either Lee or her sons will be able to provide a bone marrow transplant. Marvin’s Room embraced the lighter side of illness (ergo: a man in a chipmunk costume coming to the rescue) without ever diminishing the severity or seriousness of the topics at hand.
Dennen seemed to have a firm grasp on what beats to hit and what to play with more subtlety. This was most apparent in Julia Weinberg’s ’17 and Tristan Biber’s ’17 performances as Bessie and her nephew, Hank, respectively. While Bessie struggles with her own illness as well as her father’s, Hank deals with his own mental illness.
Both Weinberg and Biber are given their share of the limelight and a shot at humor and sympathy. The actors balanced this well, and it never felt as if the jokes in the script were at their expense. The audience was instead allowed to feel the joys and sorrows of these characters as the events of the play unfolded.
While every actor in the play had a strong grasp on their respective characters and made the individual scenes a delight to watch, the larger connecting narrative of the play often seemed missing. Each scene was, individually, extremely well realized, but the end of the play could have been more developed.
The script itself felt like the basis for much of these problems, but the transitions between scenes on stage created a larger rift between scenes than what was already there, and almost seemed to point out how choppy the play could feel.
KCDC’s Marvin’s Room had many great subtleties — like the way Bessie’s wig became more disheveled with time or the fact that Doctor Wally, portrayed by Jeffrey Searls ’19 used a tourniquet to keep his pant leg from getting caught in his bike — but they were overwhelmed by Joan Jett songs blasting through the theater and the stage crew working under a blue light during transitions. It was in these moments that the play really lost itself, and minds throughout the audience had time to wander away from the play.
With sharp lines and muted colors, the set looked amazing in each scene — and there was certainly a great deal of ingenuity in the way that the kitchen counter moved around on stage to become different set pieces — but perhaps it was too intricate for the play’s own good. Or perhaps the music just needed to be turned down a notch or two.
There were times that the play lost itself for a minute or two, but that didn’t stop the strengths KCDC has to offer, from actors to directors and set designers, from shining through.
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