Action without wheels in roller derby play
Sara Gorsky and Greg Rothman in Pine Box Theater Company’s production of "The Jammer." | Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Pine Box Theater Company, Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago
8:15 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 5 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Saturdays; and 7 p.m. Sundays; through July 1
(773) 935-6875 or visit www.pineboxtheatre.org
Updated: May 29, 2012 6:46PM
Greg Rothman isn’t bumping elbows with anyone but he is in the center of the action in Pine Box Theater Company’s production of Rolin Jones’ roller derby play, “The Jammer.” The Evanston native plays commentator Bert Fineberg.
“The story takes place around roller derby but it’s a love story,” Rothman said. “It’s about people that are all looking for something. The through line is pertinent today.”
The main character is an orphan living in Brooklyn who grows up loving the roller derby. “There’s a romantic interest that distracts him but he ends up finding his way back home in the end,” Rothman said. “He’s completely naive to the fact that roller derby is like pro wrestling. Nothing is what it seems.”
The title of the play comes from the roller derby position of jammer — the player who starts at the back and must push through the pack to take the lead. Sounds like there’s a metaphor about life in there. Despite that serious thought, the play is packed with laughs.
Rothman also takes two minor roles, Al Deepadova, whom he described as “the distracting love interest,” and the operator of a roller coaster. A half dozen or so characters are played by cardboard cutouts. That’s one of the playwright’s requirements.
Author Jones also decreed that the one-act play cannot be performed on roller skates. To evoke the feeling of a roller rink, Pine Box is using projections with images of a crowd passing by. In other scenes, the images will make it appear as if the characters are on a roller coaster or riding from place to place.
Comic book look
“Thematically, we’re making it look like a comic book,” Rothman said. “It’s 1950s and the language is almost comic book.” Some of the projected images reinforce that feeling, as when comic book-style trees pass by as characters ride a bus.
Rothman’s first stage experiences were at Evanston Township High School, where he appeared primarily in comedies. Although he majored in business at Macalester College in Minnesota, Rothman had an opportunity to continue performing. “They had an open theater department so I did a lot of acting while I was there,” he reported.
Following graduation, he took a break from entertaining. Then, after seeing a friend in a Second City show, he began doing improv. After several years, he said, “I got tired of doing things that were fairly short in form and went back to doing theater on and off.”
In 2004, he began studying at the School at Steppenwolf. “After we graduated, our class formed Pine Box,” Rothman said. They staged shows for a few years, then took a three-year hiatus. Last fall, Vincent Teninty and Rothman reorganized the company with Teninty as artistic director and Rothman as managing director. Teninty is directing “The Jammer.”
Teninty and Rothman read a number of plays, searching for a comedy, before deciding to stage “The Jammer.” “On paper, it was one of the funniest plays I’ve ever read,” Rothman said. “Plus, at this moment in time, roller derby is becoming popular again.”