By Lynn Venhaus
With the best of intentions and a powerful personal story of transformation to tell, the Black Mirror Theatre Company fully commits to a world premiere that can make a difference in the region and beyond.
Scratch the ‘can’ and insert ‘will,’ for you will be convinced that sparkplug Katie Rodriguez Banister will change the world after you share this unforgettable journey featuring her friends, family, caregiver, and allies.
In collaboration with the Banisters’ Access-4-All, Black Mirror has produced “Roll With It!”, an original work that sheds light on disabilities and creates more acceptance and inclusion by using the tools of live theater to connect.
Artistic Director J. Michelle Rebollo adroitly staged this well-constructed exercise, which makes an impact through its realistic vignettes and heart-tugging account of a young woman’s odyssey from able-bodied at 25 to being paralyzed from the chest down in an SUV rollover accident in 1990.
Banister is a speaker, author, poet, playwright, and disability educator. She has lived independently since 1992, and with her husband, Steve, founded Access-4-All in 1997. Their mission is to educate and empower their audiences through their publications, programs, and trainings.
Rebollo has known Katie for more than 20 years, and that familiarity guides this passion project. Both were in sync on making social statements.
A natural performer, Banister has theatrical experience with Joan Lipkin’s That Uppity Theatre Company and her DisAbility Project, which she was a part of for six years.
This play sprang from a piece co-authored with Lipkin called “Go Figure,” and Banister, whose autobiography is titled “On a Roll,” teamed with local playwright Michelle Zielinski to shape the story into what is now being performed.
“Roll With It!” not only educates but entertains, in an interesting way, departing from a standard formula. Katie’s candor, honesty, and humor is apparent as she and her former self struggle with physical, emotional, psychological, and financial challenges during her recovery.
The playwrights present intimate details, anticipating questions people may not want to ask aloud. They’ve ensured that this play, above all, highlights human connection.
The actress portraying Katie is none other than the woman who lived the story – and her hard-fought truths and valuable life lessons resonate as she ultimately finds purpose, beauty, and love in everyday living.
She is aided by fellow live-wire Hannah Geisz, whose affection and enthusiasm for this material is matched by the indefatigable O.G. Geisz embodies her former 25-year-old self, the voice within who encourages, and sort of a spiritual whisperer reminding her of who she was and still is.
And there are daunting obstacles, no sugar-coating those frustrations, and the inner voice prevents her from giving up, no matter how dark it gets.
As a devoted activist, Katie sincerely embraces her role as the production’s flag bearer. With an unwavering fervor, she lets us in – yes, it’s difficult, but behold an ‘influencer’ with a considerable ‘B.S.’ detector.
The play includes flashbacks, visuals, and music to aid the storytelling. Rebollo took care of the projection design, she and Rodriguez Bannister collaborated on the sound design, Ryan Luedloff designed the lighting and the tech, Erin Schwob took care of wigs, and Rachel DeNoyer was the stage manager.
An earnest eight-person ensemble portrayed different roles – mainly health care professionals, family, friends, and lawyers: Kelly Ballard, Dennis Calvin, Tyler Gotsis, Kristen Hays, Hannah (Mo) Moellering, Claire Sackman, Luke Steffen, and Rob Tierney. Gotsis played Katie’s future husband Steve.
With its positive attitude and indelible heroine, “Roll With It!” delivers insight – and warmth. It must be a call to action, for it’s not enough to describe it as inspiring.
The Black Mirror Theatre Company presents “Roll With It!” as a one-act without an intermission on Oct. 13-14 and 19-21 at 7 p.m. and Oct. 15-16 and 22-23 at 3 p.m. at the Kranzberg Arts Center Black Box Theatre, 501 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis. Tickets are available through MetroTix. For more information: www.blackmirrortheatre.org
To learn more, visit Katie Rodriguez Bannister’s website, www.awomanonwheels.com
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.