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Review: The Jammer (Pine Box Theater)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: The Jammer   (Pine Box Theater)   
  
The Jammer 

Written by Rolin Jones  
Directed by Vincent Teninty
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map)
thru July 1  |  tickets: $28   |  more info
  
Check for half-price tickets 
  
  
   Read entire review
  


     

     

A fun flashback to derby days

     

Review: The Jammer   (Pine Box Theater)

  

Pine Box Theater presents

  

The Jammer

Review by Lauren Whalen 

In the world of roller derby, nothing is sacred: language, bodies (your own and everyone else’s), and mindsets can be pulverized in a microsecond. So what’s a nice Catholic boy doing in a place like this? The Jammer follows one unassuming cab driver with a gift for skating through a bloody, brutal test of character. Pine Box Theater’s production of Rolin Jones’ award-winning play boasts an innovatively spare set and fun 50’s flashbacks, though the script is a mite long and a central character slightly confused.

Review: The Jammer   (Pine Box Theater)
It’s 1958, and bridge-and-tunnel cabdriver Jack Lovington (Josh Odor) is struggling to make ends meet for himself and his fiancé Aurora. Raised by Father Kosciusko (Bill Bannon) and still a devout Catholic, Jack’s newfound passion is roller skating. He knows it’s probably sinful. He is beginning not to care. When entrepreneur Lenny (Michael Kevin Martin) offers Jack a hefty salary to go professional as part of a traveling team, Jack leaves Aurora and the church behind. But following a dream can be costly, as Jack soon learns: loss of innocence, corruption, and some very dirty-talking roughnecks are ready to slam him into the wall headfirst.

The Jammer is staged in the small studio on Athanaeum Theatre’s second floor, but Robert Groth and Jenniffer Thusing maximize the tiny space with grand ambition. Using two payphones, strategically placed gates and a painted floor, the two scenic designers recall a bus, a church, a roller coaster and arenas all along the Eastern Seaboard with striking authenticity. Old-school drive-in announcements are projected on a screen backdrop before the show, and sound designer Harrison Adams’ Elvis Presley-heavy score adds to the nostalgia. To recreate the derby matches, many actors play multiple roles and Thusing’s props are used in ingenious ways. Joshua D. Allard’s unique costumes allow the performers to slip in and out of characters as easily as a leisurely skate around the rink. Director Vincent Teninty has assembled a first-rate production team, who set the scene so precisely and vividly, I longed for a decade during which I wasn’t even alive.

The production’s excellent technical elements somewhat compensate for an imperfect script. Though for the most part a compelling, darkly funny hero’s journey, The Jammer meanders toward the end and feels about ten minutes too long. A scene set on a roller coaster could easily have been cut in half, as it got more painful as the novelty wore thin. And one character in particular – Lenny, the brains behind the whole traveling roller derby operation – isn’t complex so much as ambiguous. Playwright Jones may have been going for a complex individual: someone who succumbed to the allure of money and fame, but still deeply cared for his players even as he exploited and misled them. However, Lenny’s characterization falls rather flat. Perhaps this is also owing to the fact that Martin is a replacement: he dropped several lines of dialogue and may not yet be completely comfortable in the role.

Still, The Jammer is worth a look. Everyone loves an underdog, and thanks to Odor’s aw-shucks demeanor and spot-on dialect, Jack Lovington’s the most lovable of them all. Bannon’s hilariously dotty priest and the stunning technical work done on a shoestring add to The Jammer’s sense of dirty joy. Derby isn’t for the faint of heart, but even a nice guy’s got a little naughty in him.

  

Rating: ★★★

  

  

The Jammer continues through July 1st at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map), with performances Thursdays-Fridays at 8:15pm, Saturdays 5pm and 8:15pm, Sundays 7pm.  Tickets are $28, and are available by phone (773-935-6875) or online at OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at PineboxTheater.org.  (Running time: 90 minutes without intermission)

All photos by Michael Brosilow 


     


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