‘Roustabout’ brings humor to tragic train wreck

The unpublished play “Roustabout” premiered Feb. 19 at SVSU.

The play shared the story of a 1918 train crash that carried the famous Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus.

Director and theatre department Chair man Dave Rzeszutek said “Roustabout” was worth the ride.

“’Roustabout’ is the most jarring thing on SVSU’s stage,” he said. “If the audience opens their ears and hearts to it and are willing to go along for the ride, they will love it. It’s exciting that it’s an unpublished work, one we got to work with the playwright on.”

Jared Kaufman, who played Roustabout and other characters, said the play was one of the most unique SVSU shows he has acted in.

“It’s crazy and hilarious and almost makes the audience ask themselves, ‘Can I laugh at that?’” he said. “It’s authentic, real and makes no attempt to be anything other than what it is.”

Holly Houck, who played Dee Dee and served as one of the narrators, said she loved working with the playwright.

“Without a doubt, my favorite memory of this show was the opportunity we had to meet the playwright, Jay Torrence, and spend three rehearsals with him learning about the art of clown performance, neo-futurism and the creation of this play,” she said. “The time spent with Jay meant immeasurable growth for me as an artist and gave the show a new depth and meaning to our entire ensemble.”

Kaufman said lots of preparation went into becoming the characters portrayed in “Roustabout.”

“The dramaturgy team of Ethan Bach and Rhiannon Hall did a fantastic job of composing a packet with so much information regarding the real Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, which was super helpful,” he said, “and they were always available for questions.”

Kaufman said the dramaturges helped him learn how to research parts to make his character more realistic.

“I had a line in the show that asks the audience and cast if they know what burning skin smells like,” he said. “I was told by Dave, our director, that it may be helpful for me if I learned about severe burns to help put real emotion behind the line. The dramaturges provided me with several clips regarding the subject.”

Houck said she was shocked to learn people left during opening night.

“I remember being surprised after opening night and learning from our stage manager that people walked out during certain scenes in the performance,” she said. “After spending five weeks growing with this script and loving it, I admittedly became accustomed to its bluntness.”

Houck said one of the show’s main themes was that war is bad and causes people to get hurt. She said while this can be an upsetting theme, the neo-futurist and meta-theatre styles helped the cast and audience “explore serious social issues through a comedic, clownish lens.”

“One of my favorite lines in the show that is close to my heart personally is when Neo No. 4 ponders, ‘I keep getting the feeling that we’re not doing anything important; we’re just making fun of things that actually matter,’” she said. “This show explores this idea, and we expect – and also respect – that audience members will have different comfort levels on various subjects.”

Rzeszutek said rehearsals went off without many issues.

“It was just the actors learning to build up endurance in order to play these larger–than– life characters,” he said.

Houck said the specific dark comedy of the show isn’t seen frequently onstage.

“‘Roustabout’ was undoubtedly like nothing you have seen before,” she said. “This show was a wild exploration of humanity, the lives of performers, storytelling, clowning and audience participation.”

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