In this `Room,' there's a message of hope and love

THEATER

Theatre Hopkins tells of undying spirit in dark comedy

March 06, 2003|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

You never see the character of Marvin in Scott McPherson's Marvin's Room. But you do see his room. Sheathed in frosted glass, it's smack-dab in the center of the stage at Theatre Hopkins.

Inside that room, Marvin has been dying of assorted ailments, from strokes to cancer, for 20 years. Living with illness, and especially, living with those who are ill, are among the central concerns of this very dark comedy in which a caretaker suddenly finds herself in need of care.

Cherie Weinert brings great empathy to the role of Bessie, a daughter who has devoted her adult life to caring for her invalid father, Marvin, and his sister, Ruth (Nona Porter), who suffers from chronic back pain. (An example of McPherson's sickbed humor: Ruth has an electronic anesthetizer wired into her brain; it helps her back, but whenever she turns the dial, the house's automatic garage door opens.)

When Bessie is diagnosed with leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant, she reconnects with her long-estranged sister, Lee, in hopes that Lee or one of her two sons will be a compatible donor. Played with bristling spirit by Christine Glazier, Lee has a totally different, and much more self-oriented, outlook on life from Bessie. It's no wonder they parted company long ago.

But as a single mother working her way through cosmetology school, Lee also has problems, due chiefly to her rebellious, pyromaniacal older son, Hank. The bond that develops between Hank and Bessie is one of the revelations of McPherson's play, and though Lex Davis could bring a little more anger to his initial scenes, he does a fine job demonstrating the positive effect his loving aunt has on him.

The dire predicaments of most of the play's characters may be off-putting to some theatergoers, and the pace and tone of director Suzanne Pratt's production aren't always swift or bright enough to counteract an overriding sense of pathos.

In the end, however, Marvin's Room delivers an uplifting message, albeit rather blatantly. "I've had such love in my life," Bessie tells Lee in one of two tender scenes they share. Lee thinks Bessie is referring to the love she's received from her father and aunt. But Bessie sets her straight. "I mean I love them," she says. "I am so lucky to have been able to love someone so much."

When McPherson, who died of AIDS in 1992, wrote Marvin's Room, he intended it, metaphorically, to be about that disease. But most of all, Marvin's Room is about love. And love, according to the playwright, is measured by the desire to give, not the desire to get.

Theatre Hopkins performs in the Merrick Barn on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:15 p.m. Sundays, through March 16. Tickets are $12-$15. Call 410-516-7159.

Frankie Hewitt

A few words about Frankie Hewitt, the producing artistic director of Ford's Theatre in Washington, who died of cancer last Friday at age 71. In 1968, more than 100 years after Lincoln was assassinated there, Hewitt returned live theater to the 10th Street playhouse. The day before she died, Hewitt received the National Humanities Medal. Two days after her death, Ford's 35th annual gala took place, as scheduled, with President Bush in attendance. It will be broadcast on ABC in the spring.

Hewitt shepherded 150 plays onto Ford's stage over the years. Many concerned American history, or at least, great Americans -- James Whitmore in Give 'Em Hell, Harry, about Harry S. Truman; Eleanor: An American Love Story, a musical about Eleanor Roosevelt; repeated runs of Whitmore in Will Rogers' U.S.A., as well as shows about Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, and, of course, Abraham Lincoln. Next week, a new production of the musical 1776 begins performances at Ford's. Steeped in patriotism, it's a show that sounds tailor-made for Ford's, a place where, thanks to the vision of a determined woman, history and theater merge and come to life.

School violence

Dr. James McGee, former director of law enforcement and forensic services at the Sheppard Pratt Health System and co-author of a study called "The Classroom Avenger" will lead a discussion about school violence after this Sunday's matinee of Rosemary Frisino Toohey's play, School Shooter, at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St. Admission to the discussion, which will begin at approximately 3:45 p.m., is free. Call 410-752-1225.

State of the arts

Ben Cameron, arts advocate and executive director of the regional theater organization, Theatre Communications Group, will deliver a lecture on "The State of the Arts in Today's Society" at Towson University March 18.

A dynamic speaker, Cameron previously served as manager of community relations for Target stores, where he supervised a $51 million national grant program that encompassed the arts, education and social action. From 1988-1992, he was director of the theater program of the National Endowment for the Arts. He is also a frequent panelist on the Texaco Opera Quiz.

Cameron's 7 p.m. talk will take place in the Potomac Lounge of the University Union (Union Drive, off Osler Drive) and will be preceded at 6 p.m. by a reception featuring performances by Towson theater and music students. Admission is free, but reservations are requested. Call 410-704-5127.

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