"But faddah!", the naive working class Jack Lovington later pleads, "How come God gives me dis roller skating gift if not to use it in da derby?"
For those who weren't there, the roller derby was a form of sports entertainment which hit its stride in the 1950's and petered out by the mid-70's. Two teams of five would skate on a banked track and players would score points by lapping their opponents. Each team consisted of a men's and women's squad which alternated playing time. Like pro wrestling, the winners were predetermined with a good guy/bad guy mentality and lots of staged brawling. And like wrestling it was compact and easily portable, making the derby ideal for local television and small town arenas.
Rolin Jones' comic romance, The Jammer, combines the crazy derby atmosphere of ridiculously staged violence with the overly earnest melodrama of a Dead End Kids B-movie. You can almost envision the play performed in black and white.
Keiko Yamamoto, Jason Lindner, and Gabrielle Castellini
Lovington (played with fun comic sincerity by Kevin Rich), raised in a Catholic orphanage and just getting by working in a cardboard factory by day and driving a cab by night, has the well-scrubbed American boy looks that makes him a perfect hero in the slam-bag world of the roller derby, and is lured away from his good-girl fiancee by a crafty promoter who books him on a tour of the northeast, promising fame, money and a chance to hit the big time; skating in Madison Square Garden. Busing it from small city to smaller city, he lives among such colorful characters as Jerry "Three Nuts" and Carol "Big Tickets" and is shown the ropes by the strong and silent Charlie Heartbreak ("I'll take you out for some beer and sluts.").
And of course, he skates. Choreographer Tim Acito has created several roller derby sequences (un-wheeled) which are as hilarious as they are authentic. Director Greg Feldman has his terrific ensemble cast play just the right amount of broadness to Jones' campy, tough talking dialogue. Jason Lindner is an absolute riot as the frantically growling TV announcer, spewing out lines like "Holy Christmas, Mr. and Mrs. Eisenhower!" as if they actually meant something. Gabrielle Castellini is also hilarious as the hard-drinking, good-time girl who inspires our hero's sexual awakening and Keiko Yamamota makes an insanely vicious derby skater.
Sandra Goldman's budget set adds to the fun with cardboard cutouts as skating "extras" and a roller coaster effect that nearly stops the show with laughter.
Those who remember the roller derby will certainly get more enjoyment out of the inside references, but even to those who think pro wrestling is legit, The Jammer scores big points for fun and silliness. Grab a jumbo soda and a hot dog and have a blast.
Photo credit - A. Rey Pamatmat