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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

The Jammer Offers a Rolling Good Time
at Balagan Theatre

he Jammer
Nick Edwards and Christie Nelson
Despite the fact that the tiny venue (55 seats by my count) which Balagan Theatre calls home has some of the most uncomfortable seats I have sat in during two decades of Seattle theatergoing, the company's current show The Jammer, which shines a light on the good old, televised roller derby teams of the 1950s, offers a solid, serio-comic evening of theatre. The distinctive cast under Terri Weagant's rock 'em sock 'em direction of playwright Rolin Jones' odd-ball yet endearing tale are enough to make you forget the discomfort of the seats for the nearly ninety minutes the show airily rolls by.

Jones' play is plot thin: A conscience-stricken Catholic orphan from Milwaukee leaves his nothing jobs and girlfriend for the chance to be a roller derby hero on television, only to return home after his sports career and romantic dreams prove to be a let-down. But Jones' characters (who seem to be inspired by those found in such golden age TV dramas as "Marty") are a funny, quirky and touching bunch of misfits, whom Weagant has cast with gutsy, versatile and distinctive actors.

Nick Edwards as the title character Jack Lovington is so at home in his bumbling, eager to please character that it is either a case of perfect type-casting or a really fine actor at work, and I suspect the performance is equal parts of each. As Lindy, the roller-girl Jack gives his heart to and contracts STDs from in return, Christie Nelson dares make her character as rough-hewn and unsympathetic as possible, then shows the cracks in her hard-as-nails veneer with amazing poignancy late in act two during a brilliantly staged Coney Island roller-coaster scene. Ashley Bagwell as Lenny Ringle, the crafty boss of the Derby, makes a perfect scheming sleazeball contrast to Edwards' innocent naf. Michael D. Blum gives an anything but stock performance as Father Kosciusko, the parish priest who serves as Jack's surrogate Father. Ray Tagavilla approaches each of his four varied roles with comic ferocity and different accents that make him an audience favorite, and Tadd Morgan is likewise versatile changing back and forth from racer Specs Macedo to English-challenged priest Father Domingo. Jessica Stepka is scrumptious, especially as the menace-behind-a-wheel team Bus Driver, and Jay Irwin is just right as obnoxious Bert Fineberg, the color commentator for the Roller Derby. The whole cast deserves high marks for unflagging energy in the racing scenes and throughout.

Director Weagant makes working within a low budget and in cramped quarters a virtue rather than a detriment. A few minutes in, thanks in no small part to a cleverly designed set and props by Jen Butler, we forget that not a single actor is actually on roller skates. So, bravo, Balagan. I'll know next time to bring my own seat cushion, as long as the production meets the high standards of The Jammer.

The Jammer runs Thursday-Sundays through April 3 at Balagan Theatre, 1117 E. Pike Street on Capitol Hill. For tickets go to www.BrownPaperTickets.com or call the 24/7 toll-free ticket hotline: 1.800.838.3006.


Photo: Andrea Huysing

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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