This world premiere from Jackalope Theatre is a family drama that plumbs much darker depths.
For a play that’s so directly inspired by recent events, Calamity West’s Rolling is going to age quite nicely. It’s not a hot take. It’s a long, cold stare at the way women in this country live in a house divided—how the notion of “girl power” most often turns into fire power that’s directed at the wrong people.
Receiving its world premiere in a fantastic production directed by Nate Silver, Rolling assumes the form of a classic living room drama. Dana Black plays Valerie, a journalist whose expose of a campus rape fell apart after the victim’s story was called into doubt. After receiving death threats, she has returned to the family home that her mother, Janet (Ann James), still shares with Valerie’s unseen father. Valerie’s sister, Molly, played by Abby Pierce, is around too—in between shifts at the Old Navy and the AA meetings that she attends with her friend Danny (Pat Whalen).
The three women’s relationships with each other could be accurately described as “fraught.” They snipe, they attack, they judge—and not silently. Janet lavishes attention on Danny’s piddling career as a “journalist slash teacher” while dismissing Valerie, and Molly plays sick jokes for little to no reason. As her employment prospects and legal situation grow worse, Valerie grows ever more volatile. Meanwhile, Danny’s helpful presence starts to feel more and more like lurking.
Black plays Valerie with the perfect combination of volcanic emotionality and thin-skinned sensitivity—which is to say, she captures the essence of being a writer. The cast around her is uniformly strong as well: James with Janet’s bland nastiness, Pierce with Molly’s addict-brained energy and Whalen with Danny’s skeezy sweetness.
West’s script strolls Chekhovianly through its characters’ lives, which is a difficult balance to maintain, but Silver keeps everything upright. The ending doesn’t quite work—on the page or the stage—but the rest of it works beautifully. One the reasons Rolling will age so nicely is because the problems it tackles are not going anywhere soon.
Jackalope Theatre. Written by Calamity West. Directed by Nate Silver. With Dana Black, Ann James, Abby Pierce and Pat Whalen. Running time: 2hrs, 5 min; one intermission.