‘The Jammer’ comedy suffers from repetition

January 30, 2013

“The Jammer” begins with a neurotic confession. Jack Lovington (Patch Darragh) announces to a priest that it’s been eight hours since his last confession, and he desperately needs to talk to someone. A taxi driver who donated half his income to the church, Jack apparently confesses several times a day. He tells the priest about grocery shopping and troubles with his protracted engagement, but what he really wants is Father Kosciusko’s blessing in his desperate desire to quit his job and join the roller derby.

However, the players are unlike anyone Jack has ever met. They drink, they puke, they yell. Legendary player Lindy Batello has recently escaped from an insane asylum, and roller derby management isn’t as honest as Jack expected. Jack promises to spend the whole trip reading the Bible but instead blunders through the worlds of drinking and sex.

The play has moments of genuine hilarity. Once Jack leaves, his parish undergoes a demographic change and hires Father Domingo, who gives dramatic sermons in Spanish and takes confession from English-speakers he doesn’t understand. The two priests’ attempts to communicate are the play’s comedic highlights.

Jokes closer to the central plot, however, are just running gags more likely to produce groans than giggles. The skaters are often represented by life-sized cardboard cutouts. It’s a compelling visual the first time around, but Rolin Jones’ script ends up exhausting the irony of human actors asking questions of their inanimate counterparts. Almost every character looks at an unseen photograph of Jack’s fiancée, Aurora, and winces dramatically at her ugliness. She eventually appears on stage in a gigantic hat that covers her face. It’s amusing, but certainly not funny enough to carry a comedy.

The actors try their best, but the writing gives them much to overcome. Jeanine Serralles plays Jack’s crazy new love interest with a refreshing realism, and her portrayal of a damaged, cynical woman could have led the play to an emotionally stirring climax. Unfortunately, the climax takes place on Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster, so she and Darragh must periodically disrupt their conversation to scream as the Cyclone goes down the track.

Despite its repetitive comedy, “The Jammer” is entertaining. If it weren’t for the sex scene, the play would be perfect for older children with crude senses of humor. As is, “The Jammer” would be a good fit for audiences who like their comedy silly and aren’t bothered by  actual cardboard characters.

“The Jammer” is playing through Feb. 10 at the Atlantic Theater Company’s Stage 2, 330 W. 16th St.

Leora Rosenberg is a staff writer. Email her at theater@nyunews.com.

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