Theater is often depicted with a pair of masks, one laughing, one weeping, two feelings on opposite sides of the emotional spectrum. The laughing side represents Thalia, the muse of comedy. The weeping side represents Melpomene, the muse of tragedy.
Reginald Douglas, artistic producer at City Theatre and director of this season’s production of Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline and now The Roommate, says that the similarities between staging comedy and drama are more common than we think.
“It’s all in the timing, so there’s the same kind of rigor that you approach to building the stakes of a dramatic performance, you really do apply to directing a comedy,” Douglas says.
The Roommate begins previews on March 2 and runs through March 24. Sharon—played by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) School of Drama grad and Pittsburgh native Tamara Tunie—is a recent divorcee, and needs extra cash and extra company in her Iowa home. Robyn, played by Laurie Klatscher—a CMU School of Drama alum and 2011 Post-Gazette Performer of the Year—is a hip New Yorker who becomes Sharon’s roommate. They form an unlikely bond in Jen Silverman’s tale of friendship and breaking the law.
The production also marks the second time Tunie and Klatscher perform together in Pittsburgh. Currently, both star in Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of The Tempest, where Tunie plays powerful wizard Prospero and Klatscher plays Gonzalo, adviser to Queen Alonso and Prospero’s confidant.
According to Douglas, this previous working relationship at the Public Theater has helped their chemistry in The Roommate.
“We didn’t have to rehearse it,” he says. “They were already really good friends and already shared a deep commitment to City Theatre and an excitement about new plays, and there’s a lot of trust in the room, me having a friendship with them, them being friends, them calling this place their home. We got to skip that step in the process.”
The Roommate marks Tunie’s first mainstage production at City Theatre. She previously performed her holiday cabaret, Legends from the Burgh, at the theater in 2016. She became a City Theatre board member earlier this year. On the other hand, this is Klatscher’s 13th performance at the South Side theater.
As a director, Douglas says that the best part of the rehearsal process is “getting out of their way,” sitting back and watching the two actresses interact with each other during rehearsals.
“I mean, what more could a director ask for?” Douglas says.
Tunie and Klatscher rehearse at City Theatre in Southside during the day and perform downtown at the Public Theater at night. Douglas says their work on both shows is an example of their commitment to the city that helped kick-start their careers.
“To see them to take on two huge productions back-to-back is a testament to their skill but also their love of making great work for our community,” he says.
And, although The Roommate and his previous City Theatre directorial work, Pipeline, are different in tone, both shows have strong characters played by strong actors, along with a Douglas flair.
“The show may or may not open with Beyonce, so you’ll still know Reg Douglas directed it,” he says.
Douglas says The Roommate, with its story of friendship, starting over and being a little lawless, fits into City Theatre’s values of showing new and diverse works.
“When Jen [Silverman] wrote the play, she wanted to write roles into the theatrical canon for women who she knew but wasn’t seeing onstage, and that’s a real City Theatre mantra, to put all kinds of people—real diversity of our world—onstage for our audience,” he says. “And that includes women over fifty who may or may not sell drugs.”