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Review: Rolling (Jackalope Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: Rolling (Jackalope Theatre)

A taut, powerful blend of tragedy and comedy

Review: Rolling (Jackalope Theatre)

In 2014, Rolling Stone published the explosive storyof a gang rape at a University of Virginia frat party. Sabrina Erdely's article turned into a firestorm: The frat was pilloried, the accused expelled from school, paraded before television cameras, and pretty much convicted in the media before the ink was dry on the indictments.

Review: Rolling (Jackalope Theatre)
Feminists from across the globe chimed in about the prevalence of rape culture, the war on women, and a country where young, educated men were raised to believe gang rape was OK. And then, Erdely's whole story turned out to be fake. Rolling Stone made the extraordinary step of retracting the entire piece. Conservatives came screaming out of the woodwork to condemn feminists of all stripes and to declare that the "feminazis" were out to emasculate every last red-blooded male in the U.S. of A. Feminism took a hit from which it still hasn't recovered.

As for Erdely, she disappeared from the radar. She's being sued by the falsely accused for over $30 million in damages. Beyond that, little is known of what happened to her after Rolling Stone discredited "A Rape on Campus." With the world-premiere Rolling , Calamity West fills in the blanks with the story of a defiant but disgraced "journalist" hiding out in her hometown after her story of a rape on campus was proven to be fabricated.

Directed by Nate Silver, the briskly paced two-hour production is a taut blend of tragedy and comedy. asks big questions about ethics and reporting. It also paints a vivid picture of a woman trying to restart her life in the wake of a spectacularly public and all-but irredeemable downfall. But West looks at much more than the aftermath of career suicide. As disgraced reporter Valerie () tries to reboot, she's forced to contend with a family steeped in years of toxic dysfunction.

Valerie, her mother Janet () and sister Molly (Abby Pierce) are a trio versed in a lifetime's worth of passive-aggressive hostility. It's no coincidence that Silver has a stack of board games piled up in Janet's living room. They're a silent, metaphorical reminder of the relentless, poisonous games this family plays in real life. Joanna Iwanicka's subtly cramped set barely has room for the bitterness, frustration, jealousy and vengeance that defines this family. ''

Review: Rolling (Jackalope Theatre)
Review: Rolling (Jackalope Theatre)
Review: Rolling (Jackalope Theatre)

But it's not just immediate family that defines Valerie's troubled homecoming. Molly's friend Danny (Pat Whalen), an aspiring journalist she met at an AA meeting, fits right in with a household where even something as simple as chopping carrots becomes a combat sport.

West drives her plot with dialogue and emotion rather than action, setting the piece in Janet's kitchen and living room. That's all that's needed for West to ramp up the stakes and to drive her characters toward life-changing decisions.

There isn't a weak link in Silver's cast, all of whom deliver West's fast-paced dialogue with the seemingly effortless ease and spontaneity of people talking in real life. Nobody is entirely likable, yet West's keen ear for conversation and character makes you empathize with everyone, even at their most annoying. West also nails the therapy-speak that informs the conversations of those who have spent years addressing their issues with professionals. If you've spent so much as an hour with a shrink, you'll be laughing at the perfectly placed buzzwords peppering the dialogue, as well as the tone. The superficial respect inherent in phrases couched by "I hear you saying" and "I feel like..." and "I need you to.." can't mask the rage roiling through the subtext.

As Valerie, Black is defiant and egotistical, insisting that she's done nothing wrong. Reporting, in her world, doesn't include verification. It's not her job, she haughtily informs her family, to figure out if something is actually true. Her responsibility stops at repeating whatever her sources tell her. It's a show of hubris that's just begging for a takedown, and when that takedown comes, it is appropriately devastating.

Valerie takes the same harshly superior attitude toward her family. When Janet tells Val that Molly is going to AA, Val's dismissive response is along the lines of "Oh. She's trying that again?" When Danny turns to Val for guidance with his own struggling journalism career, she's similarly derisive, speaking to Danny like he's an annoying splatter of dog poop stuck to her shoe.

As Molly, Pierce fully embodies the angry, flippant hostility of a younger sister forever in the shadow of the older sibling who has always shone far more brightly. Molly gets fired from the likes of Old Navy, can't put together more than a month or so of sobriety, and has no clue as to what she wants from life. Her anger is aimed with perfect precision at Val, and when she strikes, it's venomous.

As Janet, James is equally strong. Before Janet utters a word, you feel like you know this woman. Pleasantly smiling while Oprah blasts from the TV, she's a true believer in "The Secret" and (it goes without saying) a devotee of any pop-psychology ritual Oprah happens to be peddling at the moment. She is also a master manipulator, disguised as a frowsy, slightly dim frump in Mom jeans. Butter wouldn't melt in this Insufferable woman's mouth, and the fact that she's not on speaking terms with her own mother is telling.

Whalen's Danny is the outsider in this house of hostility, but it's not long before he fits right in. Whalen succeeds in making the insecure writer the nice guy for the first three quarters of the drama. But Danny's no stranger to underhanded gamesmanship and murky ethics either. When he shrugs off the good boy persona, we're left with a weasel you want to punch.

Review: Rolling (Jackalope Theatre)

Because it's such a rarity, it's well worth mentioning that West aces the Bechdel test with . There are three questions in that cultural litmus test (and it is simply staggering how many dramas fail all three): Are there female characters? Do they talk? Do they talk about something other than men? In , the answer is a rescuing affirmative to all.

Danny's an integral part of the plot. But throughout - and with marvelous impact in Janet's final, wordless moments - West has crafted a feminist story that ably depicts the flawed, messy reality of both the family and the workplace. Erdely dealt the entire women's movement a blow with her article. When Rolling Stone retracted "A Rape on Campus", a thousand patriarchal talking heads used that one article to absolutely crucify feminism and feminists in total. With , West reclaims part of the power that was lost in the uproar. It's a gratifying thing to see. And in it is also marvelously entertaining.

continues through April 2nd at Broadway Armory Park, 5917 N. Broadway (map), with performances Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $15-$20, and are available online through (check for half-price tickets at ). More info at (Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes, includes an intermission)

Review: Rolling (Jackalope Theatre)

behind the scenes

Nate Silver (director), Joanna Iwanicka (scenic design), (lighting design), Hanna Wisner (costume design), Andrew Rovner (sound design), Corinne Bass (props design), Polly Hubbard (dramaturg), Sean Hughes (associate sound design), Daniel Martinez (fight choreography), Alex Hutson (technical director), Danielle Stack (production manager), Jen Dorman (graphic design), Lauren Lassus (production stage manager), Alex Koszewski (assistant stage manager), Will Quam (assistant director), Elana Boulos (casting director), Joel Maisonet (photos)

Tags: 16-0301, Abby Pierce, Alex Hutson, Alex Koszewski, Andrew Rovner, Ann James, Broadway Armory Park, Calamity West, Cat Wilson, Chicago Theater, Corinne Bass, Dana Black, Daniel Martinez, Danielle Stack, Elana Boulos, Hanna Wisner, Jackalope Theatre, Jean Marie Koon, Jen Dorman, Joanna Iwanicka, Joel Maisonet, Joshua Volkers, Kelly Parker, Lauren Lassus, Nate Silver, Patrick Whalen, Polly Hubbard, post, Sabrina Erdely, Sean Hughes, Sigrid Sutter, Will Quam

Category: 2016 Reviews, Broadway Armory, Jackalope Theatre, New Work, World Premier

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