Roller Derby Queen: overlong, yes, but still effective

SOS Theater, performing at the Gremlin Theatre, through Nov 26

Nancy Marvy in ROLLER DERBY QUEEN. Photo by Craig VanDerSchaegen.

The central conceit of Michele Lepsche‘s affecting (and challenging) Roller Derby Queen (SOS Theater, performing in the wonderful Gremlin space – 550 Vandalia in St. Paul – through Nov 26) is terrific: Florence has ensconced herself in a junk-choked house and her angry daughter Ellen is trying to evict her, to get her into a retirement home (as they are called these days). Another daughter, Lizzie, still lives with Flo and is more concerned with her (very nicely rendered) on again/off again romance with (goofy Twins fan) Abe than with her desperate mother.

Roller Derby Queen thus addresses a real issue: how to deal with an aging parent, especially if the parent is crazy, behaving as if she’s 35 going on 20. Ellen may be something of a harridan but we’re completely sympathetic to her efforts to save her mother (who she clearly loves) from herself.

It’s important to note that Florence’s hoarding compulsion is (relatively) harmless. There are no dead cats, no rotted pizzas, scurrying cockroaches, reeking food wrappers. Only a mysterious Samsonite suitcase Florence guards with her life (I won’t tell you what’s inside). Roller Derby Queen thus has a sweetness that draws us in. Instead of putting us off and making us want to phone the Health Department.

Roller Derby Queen features fives of the best actors in the twins: Raye Birk, Nancy Marvy, Sara Marsh, Carolyn Pool and Andy Rocco Kraft. It’s worth the (very reasonable) $25 ticket price to see these artists work. Birk is terrific as the soft-spoken but angry Vietnam vet. Marsh excels as the diminutively powerful Mary Elizabeth. Pool has a thankless role, but she plays Ellen (who could be a shrieking b****) with loving substance. Kraft plays Abe with giggly weirdness. Director Matt Sciple gives the proceedings focus and power. And Lepsche has a real talent for combining soft-spoken sweetness with emotional power.

Nancy Marvy plays Florence and she’s a marvel, relentlessly cheerful, happy/unhappy, loving her daughters through thick and thin, loving what’s left of her life. Marvy energizes and gives real substance to what might otherwise be a piece of pointless fluff. Excellent work.

But: Lepsche lets this play get away from her. It’s overlong (way overlong), repetitive and (too often) expositionally static. Too many dramatic set pieces go nowhere. Lepsche inserts needless flashbacks. Roller Derby Queen is effective but the play needs shortening, and dramaturgical discipline.

Still, if you’re dealing with an aging parent (and most of us are) this play is worth a serious look.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. His Anna May Wong bioplay, How The Ghost Of You Clings, will be presented by the Playwrights Center as part of the 2018 Ruth Easton Festival. Please visit John’s informational website.


4 comments for “Roller Derby Queen: overlong, yes, but still effective

  1. Anonymous
    December 5, 2017 at 9:08 am

    critics serve but one purpose: TO KEEP THEIR JOBS.

  2. Sasha
    November 16, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    Loved it!

    I agree with a few of the reviewers points, but thought it was a poignant and important work. Some great funny lines too!

  3. lara v
    November 15, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    This was an important story about mothers and daughters.
    This guy doesn’t have any understanding of this play or the people in it.
    “Piece of pointless fluff” …did he even pay any attention to what was going on in the play.
    This was a serious play about very serious issues that all women deal with.
    Oh, of course, maybe to a man this is “fluff”,but to us it is real life.

  4. Karen Olson-Jenkins
    November 14, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    Did we even see the same show?
    We went to opening night and it was great!
    Best play we have seen in a long time
    There was ONE flashback, it seemed to me to be integral to the play. (Did you fall asleep at the end?)
    Scotty, Ray Burk’s character, the vet , was the only one that was NOT angry, but a happy guy.
    The younger daughter, put the boyfriend and herself second to the mother.
    That play was not about moving a parent to a nursing, but a tale of a mother and her two daughters.
    Of course, a female story, told by a woman, reviewed by a man who was never a daughter, nor a mother.
    We strongly disagree. We LOVED IT!!!

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