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Performing Arts

“Roof Man,” Yellow Springs Theater Company’s newest comedy will be performed at First Presbyterian Church the next two weekends. The play, written by Yellow Springs local Robb Willoughby, stars Thor Sage, center, as the titular character who refuses to get down from his roof. “Roof Man” also features, clockwise from bottom left, actors Ellen Ballerene, Seth Ratliff, Saul Caplan, Libby Holley Scancarello and Kayla Graham. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

Yellow Springs Theater Co. climbs to new heights in ‘Roof Man’

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When the world starts getting you down, where do you go? Up, of course.

At least, that’s local playwright Robb Willoughby’s suggestion in his newest comedy, “Roof Man,” coming to a Yellow Springs stage the next two weekends. 

Presented by the Yellow Springs Theater Company, “Roof Man” is the story of world-weary, blue-collar Charlie who refuses to come down from his suburban roof after mounting middle-class problems become too much. Friends and family protest, but Charlie won’t budge; on the roof is where he plans to stay.

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“Roof Man” will be staged on Fridays and Saturdays, April 12 and 13, and April 19 and 20, at First Presbyterian Church; curtain is at 8 p.m. each night and admission is $15.

“It’s sort of what I call a ‘comfort play,’” Willoughby told the News before a rehearsal last week. “Sure, there’s a little message behind it, but mostly, it’s a comedy — just pure entertainment made to get some laughs.”

A playwright by trade, Willoughby is no stranger to the local stage. A number of his works have appeared in past Yellow Springs Theater Company, or YSTC, productions and festivals. With “Roof Man,” however, Willoughby is both the writer and director — an uncommon experience in his line of work, he said.

“It’s not often you get to direct something you’ve written,” Willoughby said. “I’ve seen productions of my play that, while earnest, were disappointing in ways. For this one, I get a chance to do it the way I want and that’s extremely satisfying.”

The secret to Willoughby’s success in staging “Roof Man,” though, has come from his six-actor cast, which is mostly comprised of Yellow Springs-based thespians.

“They’re what have made this so easy,” he said. “This is a terrific cast.”

The titular character — that is, the man on the roof — is played by villager and lifelong actor Thor Sage who, for the duration of the play, never leaves his post on the stage.

“At its core, the play’s about unemployment and a mid-life crisis,” Sage said in a recent interview. “But really, my character, Charlie, just suffers from a lack of imagination. He’s in a financial pinch, has a momentary meltdown and the play ensues.”

While it’s true Sage’s character does lose his temper at the outset of the narrative — throwing a malfunctioning satellite dish off his roof like a discus — Charlie spends much of the play as the placid “straight man,” the character who counterbalances the over-the-top reactions from the other characters. In other words, not everyone is as content as Charlie with his decision to meditate on his roof.

One of those dismayed characters is Charlie’s wife, Francis — played by Yellow Springs resident Ellen Ballerene — who morphs from a mild-mannered elementary school teacher into a sailor-mouthed neurotic, unable to understand her husband’s existential plight.

Owing to Fancis’ colorful vocabulary, in addition to other adult-oriented references, “Roof Man” may not be suitable for all audiences.

Sharing in Francis’ incredulity are her parents, Mirabell and Lawrence — played by Dayton-based actors Libby Holley Scancarello and Saul Caplan. Neither of these in-laws are pleased with Charlie’s initial tantrum that broke the dish, keeping them from watching the big game on TV.

Then, there’s the small-town cop — Officer Martin Seagull, played by theater newcomer and longtime villager Seth Ratliff — who, on some occasions, seems to empathize with his friend’s roof-bound anguish. Seagull and Charlie even share a beer and talk about job prospects.

The character who really dials up the drama is reporter Kelsey Kooper, played by Yellow Springs native Kayla Graham. Naturally, the story of Charlie on the roof has gone viral — albeit for unexpected reasons — and Kooper’s small-town station of Channel 4 has picked up the lead.

“Kelsey Kooper is just hungry for a good story,” Graham said. “And to get that story, she’s willing to spin the facts, to sensationalize. No one watches Channel 4, so she’s really just trying to make the most of Charlie’s situation.”

Of the play overall, Graham added: “It’s been a lot of fun. Robb always lets me go off the ledge. Very rarely have I been reined in. He keeps telling me to go bigger, more extreme with my reactions.”

Overhearing this, Sage said with a chuckle, “I wish Charlie was a little funnier.”

“But we wouldn’t be funny without you,” Graham said.

“I suppose that’s true,” Sage said with a smile. “Comedy needs something to bounce off of.”

“That’s right,” Willoughby said. “It’s good to give the audience a character to latch onto, to keep coming back to, and Thor is just the perfect ‘every man.’ That’s not an easy role to play.”

“Roof Man,” presented by the Yellow Springs Theater Company and written by local playwright Robb Willoughby, will be staged at the First Presbyterian Church on Fridays and Saturdays, April 12 and 13, and April 19 and 20, at 8 p.m. each night. Admission is $15. The play includes some language that may not be suitable for children.

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