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A CurtainUp Review
By Zoe Erwin-Longstaff
In fact, for all his earnestness, and despite the fierce prohibitions of his fiancé, Aurora (Keira Naughton in her least visible role), Jack just can’t stay away. The holy father, for his part, clearly finds Jack endearing, (as, indeed, we in the audience are too). Hence his patience in explaining why the Derby is no pastime for a respectable young Catholic.
Kosciusko’s disdain is so dated, his pre-Vatican II moral high-handedness so offensive to our modern sensibility, that easy laughs ensue. How priggishly innocent the 1950s must have been. Such a notion, however, is difficult to sustain as the drama slices through the stereotypes of the era. In fact, there is a hard-edge of social observation in this play, despite its simple, almost cartoonish sets and the juvenile, larger-than-life atmosphere of the roller-rink world, where much of the action takes place.
As we are transported into that world, we become suddenly immersed in the raffish underside of the 1950s. That the misfits who make up the Derby team are a hodgepodge of socially inept yet loveable losers poses Jack’s moral dilemma with a special poignancy. Especially impressive are the female performers Jeannie Serralles, Keira Naughton and , Kate Rigg,. Their un-lady-like vitality lends itself to a number of physical gags that are all the more hilarious because they're so unexpected.
The composition of each scene is skillfully executed with scrupulous attention to detail. Using actors to hold up childlike painted set pieces, the bare stage is transformed again and again. Especially arresting are the scenes that take place in moving vehicles — including a taxi, a bus and a Coney Island rollercoaster.
Far from limiting the comedic potential, these enclosed environments which show actors contending with numerous bumps and swerves, make for heightened fun. The actual Derby scenes make us feel as though we are with the team in center rink. The actors also make use of cut-outs of other Derby competitors to compensate for a small multi-tasking cast. The running gag of live characters attempting to communicate with inanimate cut-outs doesn't loose steam but in fact gets funnier as the show unfolds.
The one lame, recurring joke is the characterization of Aurora as a nagging, stay-at-home wife-to-be who seems to be holding poor Jack back. That Aurora is ugly as well as shrewish is indicated through remarks from numerous characters as Naughton's face in this role is hidden by a big hat. Perhaps this flat an puzzling joke is intended to be a sweet way to show that somehow Jack is able to love her.
In any event, it’s when that love is put to the test that the real tenor of the show is revealed. Jack and his teammate, Lindy, are brought together for a fleeting romance and, for a few moments, the jokes are subdued as we see the unappeasable loneliness of the characters. But before we’re sucked too deeply into romantic sappiness, the consequences of this encounter are laid bare and graphic details follow.
Is the play likely to teach viewers anything new about the American dream in the pre-Pill era? Or even about the lure of the Rollerderby? Not really! Nevertheless, Jammer is well-acted, with Patch Darragh’s Jack, and Jeanine Serralles’ Lindy especially mesmerizing. And cudos to Director Jackson Gay for the fantastic pacing. Ultimately, this production provides a thoroughly enjoyable 90 minutes of theater.
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