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Article updated: 1/23/2013 1:24 PM

'Marvin's Room' an emotional journey for BHS actors

By Sammi King

"Marvin's Room" moves into the Black Box Theater this weekend at the Batavia Fine Arts Center. It promises to be theater so gripping that playwright Scott McPherson's words may be with you long after the lights go out on the production.

According to the play's synopsis, "Marvin's Room" is an "emotionally charged and insightful look into the irrepressible nature of the human spirit in the face of death." It is so much more than that because of McPherson's way of peeling away the layers of family relationships. Just when his words have you grabbing for a pack of Kleenex, McPherson provides comic relief. In the face of sadness, the clever dialogue and chaotic comedy make you laugh out loud.

Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 24-26.

Two members of the Batavia High School cast, Jacob Livingston and Claire Heronemus, know all too well about dealing with death and debilitating illness. Livingston, who is assistant director and plays the title role of Marvin, has seen his share of sadness after losing his mother to cancer and dealing with his younger sister's challenges in dealing with the disease when she was in middle school.

"Before we began rehearsals, my sister, Sarah, came in and we shared our story with the cast," Jacob said. "I think it was helpful for everyone to talk about it."

Even though Livingston was familiar with the play, he admitted to finding the dialogue challenging.

"There were times I had to just turn away because it was too difficult for me personally," he said. "Everything was just too raw."

Livingston's experiences have helped the cast to understand the challenges of dealing with cancer.

"At one point, Kelsey (Skomer), whose character is dealing with leukemia, looks into the mirror," said Livingston. "We talked about how devastating it is for women to not just deal with the disease but to also deal with the shock of losing their hair."

Cancer, catastrophic illnesses, caring for the aged, divorce, caring for troubled children ... are all dealt with in this play. We expect the anger and emotional struggles. We don't expect the strength in coming together as a family.

That's something Claire Heronemus knows all too well. Her father is dealing with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"I remember when my dad was diagnosed," said Heronemus. "My parents were so happy to finally find out what was wrong, to know what they were dealing with."

Heronemus has witnessed the ups and downs of seeing a loved one deal with a catastrophic illness, but through it all, she has seen a positive change as well.

"I've seen my dad grow spiritually and mentally," Claire said. "And no one in my family takes things for granted; we're thankful for each and every day."

This talented young actor was quick to remind me that this is a very funny play.

"I play the part of Aunt Ruth who is dealing with severe back pain," she added. "Ruth self medicates, but every time she pushes the button for pain relief, the garage door opens."

Black box theater productions give the audience the opportunity to see the emotions of the actors because of the small, intimate surrounding.

"When we do productions on the main stage, we have so many options available that aren't available here, like the ability to fly scenery, and large backstage areas where the cast can congregate," said director Joshua Casburn. "The intimate setting of the black box gives both the actors and the audience a new experience."

"Marvin's Room" will give you the opportunity to look at a family that finds function in dysfunction. It will move you to tears and it will move you to laughter.

"This is not just a comedy about cancer, which is unusual on its own," said Casburn. "This a play about the grace and love required to be a family."

Cast members include: Kelsey Skomer, Jordan Morgan, Jake Birkhaug, Claire Heronemus, Eric Poulos, John Hohman, Michael Hudetz, Glynis Gilio, Molly Hohman, Jacob Livingston, Mitch Wallfred, Mikkel Knutson, and Emily Dremel. For tickets, visit bataviafineartscentre.org.

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