Isis Productions has a unique position in the pantheon of Philadelphia professional theaters. It appears once a year around this time. It produces an excellent theatrical product and then leaves until the next year. Isis is the brainchild of Philadelphia actress and educator, Renee Richman-Weisband. She began Isis in 2003 with a very specific mission. She wanted to “nurture the creative process and brings it to life through the power and magic of theater. We celebrate the lives of humanity and its work seeking to challenge, inspire, question, and affirm.” I have had the privilege of seeing many of their productions and they stay true to their commitment. They choose works that make one think and feel as well as entertain. This year’s production of Scott McPherson’s Marvin’s Room certainly checks all the boxes.
Directed skillfully by Philadelphia veteran, Neill Hartley, it tells the story of Bessie (played with great nuance by Renee Richman-Weisband) who selflessly has devoted her life to taking care of a sick father and aunt. She has embraced her job as caregiver and her estrangement from her only sister. At the beginning of the play, Bessie learns she has leukemia, but must try to find a family member who is a match for a bone marrow transplant. Her sister returns after many years away with her two sons to see if they could be a match for Bessie.
The play is about family and the nature of care giving. Playwright Scott McPherson based the play on his own experiences of caregiving both to elder relatives and to his partner who died of AIDS. The play raises many questions about the nature of giving. It examines those who embrace it and those who reject it. Hartley allows his cast to show the audience the sadness and the awkward humor involved in the process. He shows that there are many times where if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.
As Bessie’s conflicted sister Lee, the talented Kirsten Quinn does a wonderful job of showing Lee’s struggle with her need for self-preservation and her guilt about abandoning the caregiving duties to Bessie. Aunt Ruth, the dying man’s sister, is performed masterfully by Philadelphia veteran, Susan Moses. She provides equal doses of pathos and humor and her scenes with Bessie are wonderfully crafted. Lee’s two sons, Hank (Billy Sander) and Charlie (Tyler Motlasz) show a different side of care giving. Hank is deeply troubled. Sander does a stellar job of capturing both the characters rebellion and cry for help. Charlie is neglected in an entirely different manner. Motlasz hides in his books and is as obsequious as Hank is obstreperous. Rob Hargraves (Dr. Wally) and Meg Trelease (Dr. Charlotte/Retirement Director) round out the cast. Like their cast mates they glean the maximum out of their moments on stage.
Hartley and Rick Miller offer a simple, but effective set. They are complemented by Allen Clark’s lighting and Bobby Fabulous’s costumes. Marvin’s Room runs until April 13th at the Neighborhood House across from Christ Church. In addition to a great evening of theater, you will be supporting a gem of a theater in Philadelphia. For tickets and information go to https://isis.ticketleap.com/marvins-room/dates or www.isisperforms.com.