Vickers wins top role in ‘comedy with depth’
Rowan Vickers was feeling out of place as he prepared for his first professional acting role. He was neither Jewish, nor American, but had been cast in Bad Jews, a play about a Jewish family in America.
The 22-year-old tried reading the Old Testament to get a better grip but it was a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum that brought everything into perspective for him.
“The museum does a wonderful job of memorialising the victims,” he said of the Washington DC monument.
“They have cobblestones from the Warsaw Ghetto and cattle cars used in the deportation.
“You could smell the wood. It was a very personal experience. These were fragments of history steeped in such horror.
“We were all overcome by it. It was a very emotional thing and then we had to go back to the theatre and do rehearsals.”
The experience made him realise that the play was about more than just making people laugh. It's a comedy about four cousins mourning their grandfather, who lived through the Holocaust.
“The evening after the funeral they start a verbal battle royale over who gets an heirloom belonging to the grandfather,” Vickers said. “He had it with him during the Holocaust.
“The museum just gave me further understanding of who the grandfather was.
“He is very much a character in the play although we never see him. He is at the crux of the play. His funeral has just ended and his grandchildren are squabbling over his effects, essentially.
“The fact that he would have gone through the Holocaust and then been able to come to America to start anew, find love and settle down is pretty amazing.”
The play opens at Washington DC's Studio Theatre on Thursday. Mr Vickers plays Jonah, one of the four bickering cousins.
“It is very much a comedy and raucous,” he said. “It does have depth though, and moments that are profound.”
He graduated from the Juilliard School in New York in May and landed the role in September.
“The play was written by my friend, Joshua Harmon,” said Vickers. “He was a graduate student in the playwriting programme at Juilliard and I was in the acting programme.
“They mix graduate and undergraduates at Juilliard. It just so happened that I knew him.
“An agent found me the role; it wasn't through him. When I found out I'd gotten the part, I called him up to tell him.”
The play debuted in New York in 2012 to much acclaim.
“It was an overnight sensation at the box office,” Vickers said. “It seemed to strike a chord with the country.
“When it first launched it was expected to go to Broadway, but for some reason didn't. Anyway, it does better in a more intimate setting. There are only four actors in it. The Studio Theatre is perfect for it as it seats about 200 people.”
Bad Jews was described as “ferociously clever” when it debuted in London, England, in January. Advertising was banned from tube stations however, for fear the title would offend.
Vickers said one of the challenges for him was playing catch-up with other actors. “Some of the actors in Bad Jews had already performed their roles in other cities,” he said. “They'd already done it and knew their lines.”
He is not yet sure what his next move will be when Bad Jews ends its Washington DC run on January 3.
“At this early point in my career I'm just focusing on getting the best jobs I can,” he said.
“I'll probably head back to New York when this is done. The plan right now, is to look for more film and television work.”
• Tickets for Bad Jews range from $20 to $69, and are available at www.studiotheatre.org/plays/play-detail/bad-jews