Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“The Jammer”

Somewhat recommended** I always enjoy watching young theater companies spread their wings with new stories and ideas, but I am afraid that The Pine Box Theater Company may have chosen the wrong material for the start of its 2012 season. “The Jammer”, written by Rolin Jones, is an interesting tale about the “roller derby”, a “sport” or game that was big back in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I recall visiting the stadium that was located on South Wabash ( around 1300 South, if I recall) to witness some of these amazing skaters and their ability to move around the wooden rink with crazy moves and whips and as a tyke, thought this was all real. Later in life, I did find out that this was all set-up and in Jones’ 88 minute story, we see that because of sponsors and TV dollars, it had to be fixed.

While there are some very talented actors in this production, directed smoothly by Vincent Teninty, the story, which is supposed to be a mixture of love, action and sport, left me a bit cold. Our hero,Jack Lovington ( nicely played by Josh Odor, despite a weak script) loves to skate. He holds down two jobs so that he can save up and marry his live in girlfriend, but when the opportunity to skate in the Roller Derby is offered, he gives up his jobs for the dream. The commissioner of the Derby, Lenny ( Michael Kevin Martin)  is a sharp businessman who, in order to keep his TV contract, will do whatever it takes, convinces the “mean star female skater, Lindy Batello ( deftly handled by Sara Gorsky) to seduce him so that he will now wallow in his sadness on being away from the love of his life, and trouble brews.

This is the love story part as Jack ends up falling in love with Lindy and as they travel the country, little by little , he loses the relationship with his “fiance”, Aurora ( played by Amy Johnson, who also handles some other roles) falls apart. I think Jones lost his way in direction as we have a lot of swearing, some sex, and quite a few stereotypes and cliches, as these skaters/outsiders all search for an identity of some kind, other than “outsiders”. There is also some confusion with cardboard cut out characters as skaters and an emcee and two vomit bits. Robert Groth and Jennifer Thusing have designed a flexible set that works well in the very small ( and uncomfortable) studio theater on the 2nd floor on  the Athenaeum Theatre. Todd Clark and Matt Miller do a solid job of lighting and Matt Hakins fight choreography is very realistic. In fact watching the skaing portions of the show are almost fun!

Other cast members of note-Bill Bannon as Father Kosciusko who is there to guide  Jack through his ordeals ( he also pplays a player, so it is funny to see him in collar with shorts and knee pads, so he can make the quick changes), Levenix Riddle, Greg Rothman ( who takes on several roles, Eliza Shin, Kersten Halle, and Miguel Nunez, who is hysterical as Father Nunez, the new Father at the Church , as the are is becoming more Spanish in membership.I guess we should also give some kudos to Jennifer Thusing for her props as they are important to the flow of the show.

There are some comic spots in the show and it does move quickly, which is blessing in theses seats, but most of what is happening is hard to follow as we never really get into the game/sport the way I had hoped to. These are , for the most part dysfunctional characters in search for their own identities and to learn how to love themselves , so they can love another. Near the end of the show there is a scene involving a roller coaster ride ( right before the championship match) which made no sense, with the exception of showing us that life is a roller coaster ride filled with ups and downs. If you are into Roller Derby, you might find this fun.

“The Jammer” will continue at The Athenaeum Theatre located at 2936 N. Lincoln Avenue through July 1st with performances as follows:

Thursdays and Fridays at 8:15 p.m., Saturdays at 5 and 8:15 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $28 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-935-6875 or online at www.pineboxtheatre.org

Street parking is available in the area ( some non-metered) and there are a few snack shops for dining within walking distance of the theater.


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