The New Colony’s ‘Down and Derby’ needs more derby, less down


A new play about a rough-and-tumble roller derby team devised by The New Colony? Sign me up!

The New Colony knows how to put on a show. Of all the productions I’ve seen from the scrappy storefront group, Down and Derby had the most potential for awesome, and seemed the most in tune to this company’s unique brand of developing new theatrical works using a highly collaborative approach between actors, writer and director.

And after their recent hit with Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche — which they took to FringeNYC where it completely sold out, went on to win a “Best Overall Production” award, and is now enjoying an Off-Broadway commercial run — New Colony is hotter than ever.

In other words, this roller derby play has a lot riding on its wheels.

And, while there are a few inspired moments, Down and Derby frankly needs more derby and less down.

Writer Aaron Weissman had his work cut out for him, taking a potential of 16 individual stories of the small-town derby team and editing it down to a compelling story. And while the story he’s chosen to tell — involving a fictional Ohio town ripped apart by a tornado that’s brought together by two sisters who, through their love of roller skating, create a roller derby team which faces a minor moral dilemma late in act two — is clear, it’s not the story I was expecting.

Just as the derby action gets going, it’s interrupted by sidebar family dramas which are as jarring as they are unoriginal. And the dramatic stakes seem forced — one sister (Rania Salem Manganaro) randomly takes off for an out-of-state job while the other sister (Aileen May) stays and, for no other apparent reason than to give the play some sort of turning point, decides to use the derby for personal gain. There are also several other under-baked stories, most notably derby gal “Dirty Harriet,” (the underused Mary Williamson) and her alcoholic father (David Kravitz).

The pity is the potential is there. Weissman knows how to write funny and fierce dialogue, but he’s overcome with minor family dramatics. The cast is filled with funny and fierce women, but they’re spinning their wheels on a play that wants and demands more energy and interaction. I mean, me and my theater-going companion were given signs to cheer on members of the derby team, but not once did we ever use them. Not because we felt strange about it — I was ready to cheer on “Maul of the Wild,” man! — but I never felt fully engaged to participate in the derby action.

“Down and Derby” plays through December 8 at Red Tape Theatre. More info here >

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