Review: “Rolling” (Jackalope Theatre)

unspecifiedShow: Rolling

Company: Jackalope Theatre

Venue:  Broadway Armory Park (5917 N. Broadway)

Die Roll: 5

Little sister Molly announces “I officially hate who I am here,” and heads nod in an audience full of adult children at Calamity West’s “Rolling” at Jackalope Theatre. Having just come from a stint at my childhood home, I felt at home once again when Janet, mother to two grown children announces “We turned your room into an office,” and “are you hungry?”

In “Rolling”, a disgraced journalist Valerie (Dana Black) returns to her childhood home in a shroud of secrecy when doubt is cast on the subject of her latest controversial article. The fallout is numerous death threats and lawsuits, which Valerie attempts to navigate from her mother Janet’s (Ann James) rec-room. She has come to the exact wrong place to seek peace and solitude; surrounded by her aforementioned mother, the headmistress of passive aggression, recovering alcoholic sister, Molly (Abby Pierce), and suspicious new family friend, Danny (Pat Whalen). Valerie must keep in this punishing holding pattern until the dust has settled around her career, at least that’s what she tells herself. But what would an ‘all-clear’ signal for her situation even sound like?

What we see is hilarious, haunting and familiar to any person who grew up safe and well fed in the upper-middle class Midwest: a family of women undercutting themselves despite every good intention. They bestow more cruelty, harsh judgment and mistrust on each other than Valerie’s internet harassers ever could. Playful barbs become weaponized as the women expose their insecurities, and any facade of intellectual prowess, emotional stability or tolerance for bullshit comes down.

Dana Black, Ann James and Abby Pierce are hilarious. They are also infuriating. They embody our mothers, sisters and friends so well, it’s as if author Calamity West were listening in on our own kitchen conversations. Thanks to Ann James as Janet in particular, I have never understood so well what it is to be the parent of adult children. How a mother could look forward to having all of her brood back under her care, and simultaneously loathe the very thought. Janet is three dimensions of resentment, pride and good intentions, and god help you if you keep her from watching Suze Orman. Likewise, Abby Pierce is smashing as Molly both as she channels all of her energy into doing her family good, and as that energy sours into her vindictive fury. Dana Black has built Valerie into such a towering giant of professional success and quick wit, we can’t wait to see the unkempt self she works so hard to hide.

Director Nate Silver gives us a lived-in, magnificently ordinary landscape to evoke the two story homesteads etched firmly in our memories. There is beauty in the tackiness, and comfort in the generic flowers that adorn the walls. This is home.

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Home: where family judges you in your hour of need.

DICE RATING: d12- “Heckuva Good Show”