The Jammer's the Thing

The artistic scope of fin de siecle roller derby makes Beckett's drama seem transparent

(The poor-quality public address system of the Kezar venue renders Ferrari's narration as unintelligible squawking; but again, this frustrating reality seems deliberate, planned. Ferrari may have viewed films by 1930s Chinese actor Mei Lan-fang, the inspiration for Wilder's minimalist staging; then, realizing that movement is more compelling than speech, altered his Announcer's dialect accordingly.)

Another standout character in this performance is the Track Presbyter. Ann "Banana Nose" Calvello acts the part with astonishing vigor, calling on her 50 years of experience with every roller derby group that has existed. Costumed in mismatched skates, with a deeply suntanned face and hair dyed in multiple colors, this grande dame stalks the stage, independent and vehement, yet she is never without her feminine core. The 68-year-old Calvello may reflect the sensitivity of Eve in the Garden, but she does it with Dionysian delight and a charming penchant for kidney-punching, chair-swinging, and outright tripping of other cast members.

After eight 12-minute "periods" in this ballet of peril, after jammers have soared majestically over blockers, and headlocks have turned into bench-emptying brawls, the final seconds are choreographed with militaristic precision. Order is suddenly restored from chaos, and as the seconds tick down, the jammer is passed along the track at blinding speed. This satirist of alienation has a two-fold destiny: He can pass an opposing player and win the game, or be elbowed and flung over the rail into the crowd. And at that moment, when the audience is on its feet chanting, at the apex of this diffuse and puzzling drama, every single person in the theater understands what it means to have grown up as an American in the 20th century, and what it will mean to live in the 21st.

American Roller Derby League. Starring Ann "Banana Nose" Calvello, Frank Apodaca, Sherry Erich, and Robert "Icebox" Smith. Announced by Dan Ferrari and Stue Ganz. Benefit for San Francisco AIDS Foundation. At the Kezar Pavilion, Stanyan & Frederick, June 16. Next performance: July 11, Burrell Field, San Leandro.

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