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Review: Austin Playhouse’s “Roaring”

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Commissioned by Austin Playhouse and written by local actor and playwright, Cyndi Williams, “Roaring,” playing now through May 4, uses a quirky narrative backdrop to explore themes of love, fear, and human connection.

Sometime in the not so distant future, it’s the birthday of the oldest living woman on Earth, and a reporter (Stephen Mercantel) is visiting her retirement community for a live interview. Whether or not this future is utopian or something more sinister isn’t really clear, but in the world of this play, people are living well past the century mark so long as they stay in the carefully regulated environment buried deep underground.

The two Joans (Mary Agen Cox and Babs George) keep themselves busy by flirting with Johnny (Huck Huckaby), the community’s debonair bachelor. But today, something fishy is afoot, and the ghosts of the past come back to haunt the present when the communication systems go down and everyone is trapped inside.

Stuck together and reflecting on the past, the elderly characters are given the opportunity to revisit their former lives (although it’s unclear if this is “real” or a dream sequence). The actors are doubled to nice effect, with Claire Grasso (Riley) morphing into a younger version of George, and Hildreth England (Melanie) transforming into the youthful doppelganger of Agen Cox.

We first get a hint of the supernatural when Molly Karrasch (Lil) appears, crawling out from under a bed in full flapper garb. Only, no one in the play can see her at first, and although it takes some time to sort out that she’s a specter, Karrasch’s expressive miming is excellent.

“Roaring” has some funny moments, and a lot of good actors, but the narrative structure and unclear conventions within the world of the play lead to internal confusion and a rather anticlimactic ending.

We never really get a sense of what this play wants to be, whether it’s farcical (Ben Wolfe refers to himself as the resident “medical guy”) or something more dramatic (there are gestures toward pathos and philosophy). As a result, the play falls short of either and ultimately left me rather puzzled and dissatisfied.