Unfortunately, I will be out of town Thursday when this event takes place. However, it sounds fascinating.
I had never even heard of Kermit Roosevelt prior to reading about “The Dark Park of the Snow.”
Playwright Steven Jackson was nice enough to speak with me last week about the story.
If anyone attends the reading, let me know how the play is.
If you haven’t heard of Kermit Roosevelt, the second son of President Theodore Roosevelt, it may not be your fault.
It was during a visit to Sagamore Hill, the historic home of the former president at Oyster Bay, N.Y., that Canadian playwright Steven Jackson noticed Kermit’s absence from popular recollections of the family. Jackson has been fascinated with Theodore since his childhood and has visited several historical sites related to him.
“During this trip to Sagamore Hill, they would talk about Theodore Roosevelt’s children, but they really left Kermit out,” Jackson said. “I found it fascinating that they would talk about the other five but not this other one. I went searching and found an interesting story with Kermit Roosevelt, who was Teddy’s second son.”
That research led to the writing of “The Dark Part of the Snow,” which imagines Kermit’s last days in Alaska. He committed suicide June 4, 1943, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 53 years old. The cause of death would be reported as a heart attack to his mother, Edith.
A concert reading of the play will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6, at the Bistro Second Stage located in Bede Room 127 on Mount Marty College’s campus. Afterward, there will be an opportunity for discussion and to speak with the playwright. Admission to the event is free.
“Kermit very much tried to emulate his father, but there were many barriers he had to do that,” Jackson said. “He had problems such as depression, and he was an alcoholic. So he had these mental health issues, but at the time people didn’t talk about those things. I think his story got kind of lost. What ended up happening toward the end of his life was, he was stationed in Europe for a while and was discharged because of his depression. He came back and had horrible issues in the States.”
When Kermit went missing for a week, his wife, Belle, convinced President Franklin Roosevelt, a cousin, to assist her. The president had Kermit tracked down by the FBI and then had him commissioned as a major in the United States Army. Seeking to separate him from the negative influence of friends, the president had Kermit stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska, where he worked as an intelligence officer and helped establish a territorial militia of Eskimos and Aleuts.
Jackson said the play examines the positive and negative effects of having a larger-than-life role model like Teddy Roosevelt.
“There was so much potential for him to have his own story to tell and be proud of himself,” Jackson said. “But because he seemed to want to copy his father so much in what he did, he never saw himself as doing much. I think that probably contributed a lot to his later issues. I really wanted to tell this story.”
Jackson, 34, grew up in Minto, Manitoba, Canada, but now lives in Toronto, and has been involved in theatre for the better part of two decades. In 2010, a play he wrote and directed, “Brothers and Arms,” played at the Fringe Festival of Toronto. In 2007, his play, “The State of Tennessee,” placed second in the best new play contest at the festival.
“I’ve always been writing, but I never took it seriously until I wrote ‘The State of Tennessee,’” Jackson said. “It was that realization that people like what I’m doing.”
A concert play reading differs from a regular performance in that there is no stage design, nor are there costumes. Instead, actors do a reading of the play.
“I think with a concert reading, you get a chance to see a production in its bare bones form and hear the words without the distraction of the set and costumes,” Jackson said.
Andy Henrickson, the associate professor of speech and theatre at Mount Marty College, said he has wanted to do more play readings as a way to expose students to new work while not having the associated production costs of a full-fledged performance.
“It gives our students a different experience,” he said. “It’s very accessible to them, because it’s two or three rehearsals and then you read it. I thought that would be a good thing for our students.”
The arrangement to bring Jackson to the campus was made through Stephen English, the instructor of theatre design and the technical director for theatre at Mount Marty College. He and Jackson are friends.
Currently, there are no definite plans to put on a production of “The Dark Side of the Snow.” However, Jackson said he hopes to make that a reality some day.
“The weird thing is, the play actually works better in Yankton than in Toronto because people in Toronto don’t know much about Theodore Roosevelt, let alone his family,” he said. “I’d love to do a production of it. It’s got a very unique set design, and I’d love to see it on stage. More than likely, if I’d ever get the chance to perform it, it would be in the States.”
Jackson said he wants the audience to walk away from the reading with a better appreciation for the Roosevelt family and an inspiration to tell their own stories.
“I’m hoping that people will go out and search for those little stories that exist but sometimes don’t get told because people might be afraid of them or ashamed,” he stated.