"Rolling" Review- a fast and funny premiere by Jackalope Theatre and Calamity West

Jackalope Theatre Company is currently presenting the world premiere of “Rolling”, through April 2, 2016 at The Broadway Armory, 5917 N. Broadway, Chicago. Written by  the award-winning Calamity West, directed by Nate Silver, and starring Dana Black, Ann James, Abby Pierce and Pat Whalen. it delivers a lot of wry laughs from it’s tightly written and sharply delivered dialogue, but suffers from a lack of character and plot development. There are too many sudden transitions and inexplicable contradictions, even before the unfortunately pat ending, an obvious effort to tie up all loose ends before the curtain drops. With writing this good, there is hope for further development; with a director and actors this sharp, if they had more to work with, they could certainly have delivered.

Dana Black

While on the surface this play appears to be based on the journalistic debacle of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s 2014 discredited Rolling Stone article entitled “A Rape On Campus”, this is actually the story of- what else- a truly dysfunctional family. Older daughter Valerie, the writer in disgrace, is played with sensitivity and courage by Dana Black; she flees to the parental domicile with her tail between her legs to hide from the controversy. Predictably, she immediately becomes enmeshed in and infantilized by the old relationships. In the oppressively small and tritely decorated little house she quickly loses all semblance of an adult personae as she copes with mom, sis, and a random male, the married community-college instructor and AA comrade of sis. That dynamic is understandable, and finely drawn. But there is neither a trajectory of tragedy here, nor a continuum of absurdity, nor a real resolution; there are just characters who seem to mutate until Hey Presto! it all turns out for the best.

Ann James and Dana Black

The most true to life character here is Janet, an archetype of the snoopy, controlling and maddening mother living in nowheresville-dad is alive, but absent. Ann James gives an inspired performance as the blithely oblivious to her own ghastliness mother-the mother all women would rather take poison than grow up to resemble-the mother you want to throttle.Valerie’s sister, Molly, played with astonishing avidity by Abby Pierce is a clueless, self-absorbed jealous and improbably on-again off-again alcoholic whose character is the most disappointing in its inability to gel-yet she’s a lot of fun to watch.

Abby Pierce and Dana Black

Finally, there is Danny, the shleppy guy all cute girls like Molly know about: he appears out of any chance encounter, is inappropriate in every meaningful way, yet he keeps coming around, and you keep letting him do so. Pat Whalen does a great job with this smarmy loser; cloyingly sweet, he insinuates himself everywhere.While it’s never explained why this married guy is always there, and how it is that he stays sober, at least his character is believable as he sucks up to any woman in this family who is available. What is far less believable is  his role in the eventual denoument; he simply doesn’t have the cojones or cachet to pull off this type of betrayal.

Ann James and Dana Black

This was an engaging  and recommended performance. The stagecraft was spot-on, the pace quick, the language really enjoyable. With a little rewriting from this fine playwright, this could be a real winner.

Dana Black, Ann James, Abby Pierce and Pat Whalen

For tickets to "Rolling" and other  great shows, go to Jackalope Theatre Company,

Photos ciurtesy of Joel Maisonet

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