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TBA Online: News & Features: May 2017

Portraying “Badass Women in their Fifties” in The Roommate

Tuesday, May 16, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: TBA Staff
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by Emily Wilson

 Julia Brothers, who lives the dream of being a bicoastal actress, working in the Bay Area and on the East Coast, can barely begin to say how excited she is to be back in San Francisco, and enjoying its stunning views, proximity to the ocean and (for now) sunny weather on her long walks out to the Presidio and Crissy Field. 

Brothers has also been enjoying working on The Roommate at the San Francisco Playhouse, where she plays the role of Robyn in Jen Silverman’s play about two women trying to change. The play, which was selected for the 2015 Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville, is funny and poignant, Brothers says.

Julia Brothers plays Robyn in The Roommate. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Playhouse.

“Their journeys have been really difficult,” Brothers said. “Both of them have been down some hard roads, and I love how brave they are and the bonding that happens with them, and the script is so well written. It’s a serious subject, but there’s so much humor.”

The Roommate tells the story of Robyn, a vegan slam poet from the Bronx, who has a somewhat shady past, moving to Iowa to share a house with Sharon (played by Susi Damilano, producing director of SF Playhouse), a housewife who describes herself as retired from her marriage. Although she loves it now, Brothers says at first, she wasn’t so sure. 

“Well, interestingly enough, I sometimes read great scripts, and I don’t get them,” she said. “When I first read this, I didn’t get it. I had to let it sit, and I talked to Bill English [artistic director of the Playhouse], and when I read it again, I saw so much more in it and the story of what it’s like to try and reinvent yourself. These are two pretty wonderful women who have a lot to offer.”

Susi Damilano plays Sharon in The Roommate. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Playhouse

Silverman has said about this play that women become slightly invisible once they’re out of their 30s, and that she wanted to “write a play for badass women in their 50s.” For Brothers, this was another attraction. 

“It just never happens,” Brothers said flatly. “If women get to be funny, there’s only one. I just finished doing Women in Jeopardy, and everyone wants to do it because there are three women of a certain age in it, and they’re all funny.”

Becca Wolf directs The Roommate. Photo by Julie Schuchard.

Director Becca Wolfe agrees. 

“I’m trying to think of a play like this, and I can’t really,” she said. “They’re not so many two-handers anymore, and writing a two-hander for two women in their 50s is definitely outside the bounds. “

Wolfe says she wanted to direct The Roommate for the chance to work with Brothers and Damilano, who she calls two of the best actresses in the Bay Area. She loves Silverman’s work as well. 

“She’s an exciting voice, and she has so many different styles,” Wolfe said. “She’s an ambitious writer and there’s a lot of resonance in this story.”

The play explores the question of who we are and how we become who we are, Wolfe says. And that question gets even deeper in midlife, she thinks. The play is also a sort of commentary on the cult of reinvention and self-discovery, showing that sometimes changes don’t go the way we expect.

Sharon starts the play as a desperate, unhappy person, Wolfe says. And she wanted to show how Sharon was able to change that. 

“She’s lost her connection to herself and Robyn comes in with all this life and is so free, and at the beginning it really scares her,” Wolfe said. “To me the play is about the power of self. I think it’s about Sharon giving herself back to herself and coming back to her will and body and drive.”

The Roommate runs from May 23 to July 1 at SF Playhouse.

Emily Wilson writes for print, the web and radio. She also teaches at City College of San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @ehw415