Marvin's Room (play)

Marvin's Room is a play by the American writer Scott McPherson. It tells the story of Bessie and her estranged sister, Lee, who confront a family crisis.

Marvin's Room
Written byScott McPherson
Date premiered1990
Place premieredGoodman Theatre, Chicago
Original languageEnglish
SubjectFamily, cancer, death, sisters, humor
Setting1990s Florida, USA


The play is based upon McPherson's experiences with older relatives who lived in Florida. McPherson cared for his partner, the cartoonist and activist Daniel Sotomayor, who died from AIDS. His experiences living in the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic influenced his writing.[1] McPherson himself died in 1992 of AIDS at age 33.[2]


Bessie, a strong-willed woman, takes care of her bedridden father and eccentric Aunt Ruth. After Bessie is diagnosed with leukemia, her estranged sister, Lee, comes to visit and to be tested as a possible bone marrow donor for her sister. The reunion between the sisters is initially uncomfortable, aggravated by the difficult behavior of Lee's two sons. The two women eventually confront their shortcomings as sisters, reach out to each other, and arrive at an understanding about the importance of family.

Casts of major productions

Character 1990 Goodman Theatre cast 1990 Hartford Stage cast 1991-92 Off-Broadway cast 1992 West End cast 1994 Los Angeles cast 1996 Film cast 2017 Broadway Cast
Bessie Wakefield Laura Esterman Laura Esterman Laura Esterman Alison Steadman Mary Steenburgen Diane Keaton Lili Taylor
Lee Wakefield Lacker Lee Guthrie Janet Zarish Lisa Emery Phyllis Logan Jean Smart Meryl Streep Janeane Garofalo
Hank Mark Rosenthal Mark Rosenthal Mark Rosenthal - - Leonardo DiCaprio Jack DiFalco
Aunt Ruth Jane MacIver Mary Louise Burke Alice Drummond Carmel McSharry Jane Cecil Gwen Verdon Celia Weston


Marvin's Room premiered at the Goodman Theatre Studio in Chicago in 1990, directed by David Petrarca.[3]

It played at The Hartford Stage, opening November 1990.

It ran Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, opening on November 15, 1991, and closing on February 23, 1992.[4] The play re-opened Off-Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theater in March 1992 and closed on September 6, 1992, directed by David Petraca.[5]

It played at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, from September 1992 to October 1992, directed by David Petrarca.[6]

It was performed at the Hampstead Theatre in London in 1993 and transferred to the West End at the Comedy Theatre for a short-run.[7]

It played in Los Angeles at the Tiffany Theater in 1994.[8]

A Broadway production ran at the Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theatre from June 8 to August 27, 2017. It was directed by Anne Kauffman.[9] The cast included Janeane Garofalo, Lili Taylor, Jack DiFalco, and Celia Weston.[10]

Film adaptation

The play was adapted as a film also called Marvin's Room by John Guare in 1996. Diane Keaton was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Bessie.[11]

Awards and nominations


  1. Katie Hogan, Marvin's Room Women Take Care: Gender, Race, and the Culture of AIDS. Published by Cornell University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8014-8753-6. Page 14.
  2. David Richards, "A Door Left Ajar in 'Marvin's Room'", Washington Post, January 5, 1997.
  3. Bommer, Lawrence. "Marvin's Room Review",, March 1, 1990
    - Christianson, Richard, "Review. 'Marvins Room' Offers Up a Breathtaking View", Chicago Tribune, February 20, 1990
  4. "'Marvin's Room' 1991",, accessed September 7, 2016
    - Glenn Collins, "Walking the Tightrope That Is 'Marvin's Room'" New York Times, December 12, 1991
  5. "'Marvin's Room': Life, As It Is and Could Be", The New York Times, March 6, 1992
    - Marvin's Room,, accessed September 7, 2016
  6. Rose, Lloyd. "Light-Filled 'Marvin's Room'", The Washington Post, September 18, 1992
  7. Chicago Tribune, August 8, 1993
  8. "Mary Steenburgen", Los Angeles Times, accessed November 23, 2016
  9. Clement, Olivia. "Roundabout Announces Broadway Premiere of 'Marvin’s Room'", Playbill, September 6, 2016
  10. Clement, Olivia. "Janeane Garofalo and Lili Taylor Will Star in the Broadway Premiere of 'Marvin’s Room'", Playbill, March 28, 2017
  11. Peter Marks, "Two Wrenching Dramas Find Unexpected New Lives", New York Times, December 8, 1996.

Further reading

  • McPherson, Scott (1992). Marvin's Room (First ed.). New York: Plume drama. ISBN 0-452-26922-9.
  • Don B. Wilmeth, Leonard Jacobs, Marvin's Room The Cambridge Guide to American Theatre. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-521-83538-0. page 430.
  • Otis L. Guernsey, Jeffrey Sweet, Al Hirschfield (illus),The Applause-Best Plays Theater Yearbook, 1990-1991: Featuring the Ten Best Plays of the Year. Applause Theatre Books, 2000. ISBN 1-55783-107-6. Page 476.
  • Marvin's Room. Dramatists Play Service, Inc. 1993. ISBN 978-0-8222-1312-3.
  • "MARVIN'S ROOM: A Study Guide", Public Theatre, February 2004

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