Can sports heal communities? New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared they can, green-lighting the city’s annual marathon to run on schedule just days after Superstorm Sandy subsided. The community disagreed, and Bloomberg caved to pressure to cancel. But in Down & Derby’s fictional Larkin City, Ohio, still recovering physically and emotionally from its battering by a tornado, the answer is yes, and the healing diversion is less elegant and a lot rougher than pounding out 26.2 miles of pavement: roller derby.
Sisters Hunt Her Ass Thompson and Maul of the Wild (the play’s characters are known by their derby names) launch a roller-derby team to cope with their own losses from the storm. When the 11-member Misfit Mavericks take the track, they end up providing the town a brash balm.
On track (sorry) to unfold a lovable-losers-style redemption tale, Aaron Weissman’s script takes some unexpected turns. Scenes showing individual characters’ stories, while well acted and integral to later shifts in the play, slow the momentum built up when the Mavericks jest, plan and skate. Director Thrisa Hodits and her charismatic cast negotiate the logistics of skating on an actual track and, with less success, the acoustics of a gymnasium space. The production’s adventurous blend of theatricality and grit, from the recurring physical motifs to the breeze kicked up by the pack racing around the track, is worth cheering on.