It’s widely known that there are limited roles for “women of a certain age” in theater.
However, the scarcity speaks to more than just an age. It omits aspects of womanhood rarely conveyed through scripts.
In its latest project, 1812 Productions, a Whitman-based troupe creating “comedy and comedic works of theater,” challenges these orthodox characters with Jen Silverman’s “The Roommate.”
Running through Oct. 20 at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, the play is reuniting longtime friends and Philly theater legends Jennifer Childs, producing artistic director of 1812, and Grace Gonglewski as the duo brings to life the unlikely story of a “country mouse” meeting a “city mouse.”
“The reality is – there aren’t very many plays that put two women on stage,” said director Harriet Power. “The roles are dimensional and fabulous and it isn’t like, ‘I wish there was a man in my life.’ It’s really about – who am I at this moment? And, is change possible?”
Becoming new roommates in Iowa City, the plot follows two women in their mid-50s as they struggle with starting anew. While one is escaping a shady past in New York City, the other is dealing with a recent divorce in the Midwest.
Though they appear seemingly different, the leads have more in common with one another than what meets the eye.
“I think one of the beautiful things about it is – neither one of them realize they need what the other one has,” Childs said. “I think that they’re surprised by each other in that…It’s finding what you need in the least likely person.”
Though their characters’ friendship fosters on stage, Childs and Gonglewski have been companions professionally and personally since meeting in the early 1990s.
Over the course of several years, the pair shared the stage at the Arden Theatre, including tackling roles in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “The Taming of the Shrew,” to name a few. For the first time in 13 years, Childs and Gonglewski, whose 16-year-old daughters are also close friends, are taking the stage in tandem again.
“What intrigued me into doing this play is – to have two juicy roles like this for women is really something,” Childs said. “I really respond to the way that it talks about – how do we identify ourselves when our worlds are changing so much?”
When Gonglewski read the complex roles, she immediately knew she wanted to be involved with the 1812 project.
“One thing that’s been standing out to me in the play is how these seemingly very different people have place of connection and recognition,” Gonglewski said. “And, I feel like in the political climate that we’re in right now in the United States we need that…Even if you’re on the other side of the fence, maybe, politically maybe whatever – there’s ways we can come together as human beings.”
For the characters, coming together as human beings meant recognizing the similarities they’re facing as women at this point in their lives.
Once their fertility stages have ended, as well as their hunts for a life partner, the women wonder what strengths they have left.
“Your power falls away,” Gonglewski said. “You become invisible and it’s quite shocking. And, I think these women are in that phase of their lives, fighting their invisibility but running up against it.”
With their children grown, the characters also grapple with a new point in their motherhood – something that was a crucial part of their identity for so long.
As the characters seek new purpose and, maybe, some exhilaration, the cast and crew say there’s a certain way the plot tackles the notion of boredom as being unbearable.
However stuck somebody may seem, the hunger to break out of boredom often triumphs, especially in desperate times.
“The playwriting is lofting some interesting balloons around economics, around financial security or its lack,” Power said. “What is it you’re willing to do for money? And I think (Jen Silverman) takes that notion and runs with it in ways that are really unusual and, dare I say, fun.”
Described by the cast and crew as a “comedy that makes you think,” “The Roommate” exists somewhere between “The Odd Couple” and “Breaking Bad.”
The cross-genre of comedy and drama creates a particular lens to view womanhood, telling audiences to, perhaps, come to peace with not having it all figured out – at any age.
“It’s taken me so long to not care if I don’t know it yet. I don’t have to know everything, and that’s so freeing,” Power said. “It’s true that it’s part of what Jen Silverman is saying…don’t be afraid of having it be a hot mess.”
To learn more about the play, visit: www.1812productions.org/.