There is no actress working today who can played demented like Jeanine Serralles--and that's really a compliment. Without vanity or restraint she hurls herself into every role I've seen her play. The Jammer, written by Rolin Jones (writer of the Friday Night Lights episode "The Son") and directed by Jackson Gay, is no exception. Serralles finds comedy where others struggle but she can play the balance between laughter and tenderness with expert skill.
The play is set in the world of 1950's roller
derby. It's presented with an intentionally cartoonish aesthetic, a lo-fi approach,
an absolute lack of political correctness and a touch of the absurd. A young innocent dreamer, Jack Lovington (Patch Darragh) against the wishes of his priest (Todd Weeks) and his
girlfriend, enters the derby world to expand his horizons and skate.
On the road he encounters Lindy (Jeanine Serralles), a mental hospital escapee who revs up
the crowd with her trash talk, 4 letter words and dirty tricks. Torn
between the girl he left behind and a drunken one night stand with
Lindy, this wholesome dreamer has to sort out artifice from reality and figure out who he truly loves.
The tone of the play straddles comedy and sweetness to varying degrees
of success. The dialogue and performances could have been snappier in parts. I found things dragged every time we shifted focus back to the church and Jack's confessor (though the rivalry between the two priests was really funny). But the goofball hijinks were just right. Certain gags just made me laugh out loud ("Father Domingo's Bird Extravaganza" for one) but I felt they were not as
constant as I would want from a comedy. Jackson Gay's playful approach to the derby races on stage worked. She had the cast set the scene whether riding a bus, a roller coaster or making turns around the roller rink--and the physical comedy and rag-tag feel for this worked well in this production.
I loved seeing Civilians performer Dan
Domingues again in his duel role of the bespectacled derby player and Father Domingo,the bird man of St Barbara's. Casting directors take note, he's a very funny guy and I'm not sure why I don't see more of him in shows. Patch Darragh was affable as the vapid Jack. But for me the show is all about Serralles.
I've been a fan of Jeanine Serralles since Maple and Vine. Everything I've
seen her do (The Maids, Let Me Ascertain You) has been riveting. She has a way of finding
the truth even in the ridiculous. There's a moment in The Jammer when she's dolled
up in trashy lingerie and supposed to be seducing our intrepid hero
but she catches sight of his love letter to his girl back home. She reads it and Serralles's body shudders in reaction. All her sexual
intentions slip from her face and she is transformed. Softened.
Human and vulnerable. Exposing her soul. And then a moment later
she's playing a wacky Lucille Ball bit of physical comedy. It's the
rare actor who can make those transitions work (and I'm not sure they all work in this play but I loved seeing Serralles do it).
If for no other reason see this play for Jeanine Serralles--she's impossible to forget and worth seeking out.
I received a complimentary ticket to this show.