Playwright: Aaron Weissman. At: The New Colony at Red Tape Theatre at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, 621 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: 773-413-0862 or www.thenewcolony.org; $20. Runs through: Dec. 8
The New Colony continues to amaze with its continued stream of world premieres. Down & Derby is the company's 11th original creation, which rolls in hot on the heels of the critical success of its New York production of 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, running off-Broadway through Nov. 20 at the SoHo Playhouse.
Down & Derby takes its inspiration from the world of roller derby. Right from the start, the audience is treated to an explanation of the rules to the jab-filled roller-skating sport on a suggestive roller derby racecourse designed by John Holt.
Yet roller derby isn't the whole story. Through flashbacks (underlined by the audio revving by sound designer Nick Kawahara), we come to learn about the tragic circumstances that spurred two grieving sisters to form the Larkin City Misfit Mavericks team.
Initially, the team becomes a great way to rally the broken community together. However, leadership issues, personal conflicts and a co-opting of the team for business and political purposes threaten to undo all the work that made the Misfit Mavericks a success.
Director Thrisa Hodits does a great job with creating an electric atmosphere throughout the production, be it at derby matches or via one-on-one scenes between players and their parents. True, the in-the-round show (and noisy acoustics) means that much dialogue goes by the wayside, but the audience can still follow what's happening.
Playwright Aaron Weissman's Down & Derby functional script was developed via improvisation with the cast. Yet one wishes Weissman's script refinements could have gone even further so their on-the-spot origins aren't so clunky.
Otherwise, Down & Derby provides a wealth of great character turns for its company, especially for the players who take on comical and frequently rude derby player aliases. Much of the main conflict occurs between sisters "Hunt Her Ass Thompson" (the demanding Aileen May) and "Maul of the Wild" (the conflicted Rania Salem Manganaro), the father-and-daughter duo of Graham (David Kraviz, playing an alcoholic) and "Dirty Harriet" (Mary Williamson), and the at-odds mother-daughter team of Martha (Carol Saller, as the Mayor) and Kilotwatt (Jaclyn Keough, an actual former roller derby skater with the Windy City Rollers).
Of LGBT interest, there is an affectionate lesbian couple in the mix (Lauren Sivak as Jailhouse Block and Hannah Alcorn as JonBenet Slamsey) and a very camp supporter in Joel Kim Booster's super fan Diego, but these three take a backseat to the show's main conflictsa sign of progress since the teams apparently have no qualms with diversity.
Although it has its faults, Down & Derby is still very entertaining. The show also aligns itself with the great tradition of homegrown and in-your-face Chicago theater.