Review: New Village Arts’ ‘Roommate’ comedy takes satisfying twists, turns

Kim Strassburger, left, as Robyn, and Milena (Sellers) Phillips as Sharon in New Village Arts' "The Roommate."
(Courtesy of Daren Scott)

The entertaining one-act is a terrific showcase for its star, actor Milena (Sellers) Phillips


In the first couple scenes of Jen Silverman’s play “The Roommate,” which opened in its San Diego premiere Saturday at New Village Arts in Carlsbad, the plot seems mighty familiar.

There’s the feel of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” in the plot’s unlikely matchup of new roommates Sharon, a newly divorced 50something Iowa homemaker, and Robyn, a lesbian pottery artist from the Bronx. Then there’s the woefully overused expository scene where the roommies bond and bare their secrets in a giggly pot-smoking scene. (Can’t playwrights and screenwriters come up a less-clichéd way for characters to get to know each other?)

But when Sharon discovers a secret cache of forged driver’s licenses and IDs among Robyn’s things, the 95-minute play really gets moving and it takes the audience on a funny, free-wheeling and unexpected ride.

Robyn has moved to Iowa for a fresh start, with the goal of putting her past as a con artist behind her in order to reconnect with her angry and estranged daughter. But Sharon’s fascination with learning the art of scamming sucks the reluctant Robyn back in for a “Thelma and Louise”-style crime spree, and the hint of potential romance blooms between them.

Directed with verve, humor and fast pacing by Samantha Ginn, “The Roommate” is not only a twisty, entertaining and touching tale, it’s also a great showcase for its two actors, who rarely get the stage time they deserve.

Milena (Sellers) Phillips has been a steady presence on local stages for the past decade, but only in recent years — and mostly at New Village Arts — has she received well-deserved top billing. Her performance as Sharon genuinely sparkles with hope, as she gradually transforms from a repressed and conservative housewife into a joyous, outgoing, playful and confident woman.

Kim Strassburger, who plays Robyn, is much better known for her work as a stage director. But in this onstage outing, her deadpan comic and subtle dramatic skills are on point, as Sharon gradually chips away at Robyn’s emotional reserve and her resolve to leave the darkness and secrets of her old life behind.

Christopher Scott Murrillo’s multi-locale scenic design adds a lot to the realism of the production. Katrina DeRoche designed costumes, Annelise Salazar designed lighting and Marcus Rico and Ginn co-designed sound.

“The Roommate” is a comedy, but it has heart, surprises and a touching finale.

‘The Roommate’

When: 2 p.m. Wednesdays; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through April 23

Where: New Village Arts, 2787 State St., Carlsbad

Tickets: $27-$50

Phone: (760) 433-3245