‘Marvin’s Room’ reviews: First Broadway production ‘keenly performed,’ but ‘fatally mild’

After an initial bow Off-Broadway in 1991 and a starry, Oscar-nominated movie adaptation in 1996 starring Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton, Scott McPherson’s “Marvin’s Room” has finally debuted on Broadway. The current Roundabout Theatre Company mounting, which opened on June 29 at the American Airlines Theatre, stars Lili Taylor as Bessie, selfless caretaker to her titular father and ailing aunt Ruth (Celia Weston), whose own leukemia diagnosis prompts a reunion with her estranged sister Lee (Janeane Garofalo).

“Marvin’s Room” received mixed response from critics. In a positive, four-of-five star review, Adam Feldman (Time Out New York) deems this mounting a “luminous revival” of a “pained yet comforting play” that “movingly depicts a world in which loving others is, as it often has to be, its own reward.” Jesse Green (New York Times) similarly finds the production “[t]houghtfully directed by Anne Kauffman,” “keenly performed,” and “a pleasure to watch throughout,” applauding the “elegant” set design by Laura Jellinek and the “divine” Weston. Overall, though, Green finds the affair “fatally mild” due in large part to its lacking of the context of the original staging that made the show feel so vital.

Allison Adato (Entertainment Weekly) agrees that this production “lacks the emotional power and resonance to move us,” noting that the show seems “merely serious when you wish it would be moving,” but applauds the “engaging” Taylor and “terrific” Weston. David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter) finds even less to appreciate, calling the show an “anemic revival” and faulting director Kauffman for the “sluggish” pace, yet also applauds the “exquisite performance” of Lili Taylor and characterizes Weston as “a treasure.”

Although mixed, the critical reaction to “Marvin’s Room” won’t help the production’s chances come Tony Award nominations in eleven months. Set as a strictly-limited run scheduled to shutter at the end of August (when the Fall season on Broadway typically starts to ramp up), the show could very well get lost in the blitz of timelier openings. If the Tony nominating committee does remember “Marvin’s Room,” it would most likely result in a bid for Lili Taylor, who last appeared on Broadway 20 years ago in a revival of Anton Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters.” Regardless of how critics responded to the show as a whole, they all seemed to agree on the merits of Taylor’s performance.

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