Theater review by David Cote. Atlantic Stage 2. By Rolin Jones. Dir. Jackson Gay. With Patch Darragh, Jeanine Serralles. 1hr 30mins. No intermission.
Does the title of Rolin Jones’s 2004 play make you titter? Does it sound a little porny, a wee corny, a trifle obscene—but in a booger-eating-fifth-grader kind of way? Then you are the perfect audience for The Jammer, set in the low-class, high-impact milieu of roller derby in 1958. Tracking the sentimental education of a plucky orphan from Bushwick who finds that when he skates, “I got fireworks on my feet,” The Jammer is a ripsnorting, bodily-fluids-drenched, retro riot.
Suggesting an improbable filtering of Paddy Chayefsky (slyly referenced) through the Farrelly brothers’ soft-centered slob humor, the comedy turns on the fortunes of Jack Lovington (Darragh), who leaves the bosom of his church—and kindhearted Father Kosciusko (Todd Weeks)—to join a national roller-derby tour, tempted by the lure of money and smooth-talking Lenny Ringle (Billy Eugene Jones). At first, Jack is paired with female player Lindy Batello (Serralles), a gutter-mouthed sociopath whose dainty salutation is “Go fuck yourself with a stick.” On the road to roll and throw elbows at various two-bit rinks (with sports announcers interchangeably played by lusty Greg Stuhr), Jack loses his virginity to Lindy, despite still carrying a torch for fiancée Aurora (in a running joke, people actually gag when they see her photo). Even as the innocent Jack gets wise, the worldly and soiled Lindy finds her carapace of cynicism starting to crack. Lest you take The Jammer for a romance or a serious investigation of Eisenhower-era sexual mores, however, Jones throws in a few gut-churning curves (hello, gonorrhea!) and a daffy showdown on the Coney Island Cyclone.
Like a roller coaster, or a loop on the track, the action ends where it begins, and it’s unclear what lesson we’ve learned. But that’s fine: You still enjoy the balls-out mugging and period-aping of Jones’s scrappy, metatheatrical style (the piece debuted nine years ago in the Fringe Festival). Director Jackson Gay and her lovable ensemble have a blast with multiple zany characters and old-timey patter. The roller-derby sequences are ingeniously choreographed sans skates by Monica Bill Barnes. I would go into detail about the movement tricks, but I might get a kick in the jujubes; that’s how they roll.—David Cote
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