The Brooklyn roller-derby craze of the '50s gets a send-up in 'Jammer'
Long before Brooklyn had the glitzy Barclays Arena, it had the Coney Island Armory, where roller-derby matches once drew crowds.
Set in the late 1950s in working-class Bushwick, the new off-Broadway play The Jammer brings these gritty games to the stage, with all the elbow-throwing action you’d expect—plus a huge dose of humor.
The action centers on Jack Lovington, a pious and earnest young man working two jobs—in a cardboard factory, and behind the wheel of a cab—to support his devoted and chaste fiancée Aurora. Against his priest’s advice and his own sense of duty, Jack throws it all away to become a roller-derby pro, skating for the New York Bombers. It’s a dream come true for Jack, but it soon becomes a nightmare: The owner is short on cash, the games are rigged, his teammates are an unruly lot, and Aurora finds another man while her betrothed is on the road. And that’s before Jack falls for Lindy, an unhinged teammate who seduces him, gives him a gruesome S.T.D., and then dumps his ass.
Playwright Rolin Jones (The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow) tells a fairly straightforward tale in his script. But the Atlantic Theater’s production adds several layers to the story that make it more fun to watch, from the two-dimensional cardboard cutouts that stand in for the remaining teammates, to Wilson Chin’s remarkably versatile and compact set. Director Jackson Gay keeps the pacing appropriately brisk in the 90-minute one-act. And kudos to choreographer Monice Bill Barnes, who creates an effective illusion of skating—each character with a distinct style—on a tiny stage, without using any roller skates at all.
But it’s the actors who truly make the show. It’s hard to take your eyes off Kate Rigg in a supporting role as tough-girl derby star Cindy Gums, and Dan Domingues does impressive double-duty as a skater named Specs and a showboating Latino priest named Father Domingo. Patch Darragh (Kin) gives the play its emotional center as Jack, playing him with more heart than brains, and more self-doubt than ambition.
Finally it’s Jeanine Serralles who steals the show as the sex-crazed, double-crossing, dirty-playing Lindy; Serralles, who nearly walked away with Maple and Vine at Playwrights Horizons last season, does the same here with her manic delivery every time she takes the stage. Whether she’s trying to seduce poor Jack on a vibrating bed (one of the evening’s most hilarious scenes) or discuss abortion during a drunken roller-coaster ride (another gem, brilliantly directed), she’s unpredictable, aggressive, and more than a little dangerous. Which is what, we learn, roller derby was all about.
The Jammer is showing at Atlantic Stage 2, 330 W. 16th St. Tickets are $45. Call 212-691-5919.