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Sandy Actors Theatre presents tale of love and sacrifice
by: Roger Nelson Estranged sisters Lee and Bessie argue over paying for a bowl of candy while visiting a nursing home.

Anxiously awaiting test results from an eccentric doctor, Bessie tells herself the bruising and lack of energy are just a vitamin deficiency.

After a stroke left her father incapacitated 20 years ago, she became the consummate caregiver in her family, and she won't let the thought of cancer enter her mind.

When she's diagnosed with leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant, though, Bessie reaches out to her estranged sister for help.

Enter a chain-smoking beauty school student and her sons -- one of whom is a pyromaniac teenager on lithium -- whose trip down from Ohio to Florida is sponsored by a nuns' bake sale.

'Marvin's Room,' a play chronicling one woman's commitment to loving her family first, opens Friday, Feb. 10, at Sandy Actors Theatre.

Directed by Dalene Young, the play was chosen from last year's Readers Theater Gresham performances, and features part of the original cast.

'It's an intimate portrait of how families work,' says Toni Lima, who plays Dr. Charlotte. 'It shows the beauty of relationships.'

The cast blends Sandy Actors Theatre veterans and first-time actors, including Cheryl Nelson, Mary Margaret Castaneda, Berta Limbaugh, Jason Bernheimer, Tim Park, Toni Lima, Ian Phipps, Jim Lamproe and Daphne Schmidt.

Recently, the cast expanded to include four stage kids. Charlee Davis, Michael Page, Liam Phipps and Natalie Spriggel make cameos in disparate scenes -- a mental institution and Disney World.

Following her father's stroke, Lee fled to Ohio, leaving her sister to care for him. Her 17-year-old son was institutionalized after he set her house on fire, and the family is fractured.

Bessie, Lee's sister, believes that giving love has made her life incredibly rich, even as she faces her own pain and loss.

Needing a bone marrow transplant, she hopes her sister or nephews will provide a match, and welcomes them to the home she shares with Marvin, her father, and Ruth, her disabled aunt, in Florida.

'This woman has such compassion and cares for her father and aunt so selflessly,' says Cheryl Nelson, the actor playing Bessie. 'The family is broken, and she's instrumental in trying to heal that rift.'

Despite Bessie's grim diagnosis, Nelson says the play is filled with humor.

Aunt Ruth, played by 30-year Sandy Actors Theatre veteran Berta Limbaugh, is strong and loving, despite crippling back pain. Comical moments ensue when her 'cure,' a device wired to her head that helps reduce the pain, somehow interferes with the automatic garage door.

'There's such a good spirit in the play,' says Young, the director. 'It's life affirming.'

And by Marvin's room, an estranged family grows back together.

Written by Scott McPherson, 'Marvin's Room' premiered in 1990 and was adapted to a film in 1996 starring Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton and Leonardo DiCaprio. The play won a Drama Desk Award for outstanding play and Outer Critics Circle award for best play.

'Marvin's Room' runs through March 4 at Sandy Actors Theatre, with performances 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Reservations are recommended.

Opening weekend, Sandy Actors Theatre will offer a $2 discount on tickets, and Friday, Feb. 10, Dita's Chocolates will offer a pre-Valentine's Day chocolate tasting and sales.

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