“For the Love Of (or, The Roller Derby Play),” now playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, could be perceived (or dismissed) as a play about women’s roller derby. However, the “For the Love Of” part really sums it up. Focusing heavily on a new skater who goes by Joy Ride, the well-acted show seductively charms the audience with its depiction of how much its quirky characters are willing to sacrifice to follow their hearts and how much the team means to them.
The Center Theatre Group (CTG) is remounting Theatre of NOTE’s production of “For the Love Of” at the Kirk Douglas through March 17, 2019. It is part of CTG’s third annual Block Party, which features shows from small theatre companies in the Los Angeles area restaged in the larger setting. This show, written by Gina Femia and directed by Rhonda Kohl, features an all-female cast and all-female design team.
Fleshed Out Characters Behind the Derby Names
Many plots try to convey what drives people in a strenuous activity, pursuing careers and, of course, maintaining relationships. However, “For the Love Of” skillfully moves from the dramas involved with an amateur roller derby team called the Brooklyn Scallywags and the characters’ backstories.
The story follows rookie Joy Ride (Briana Price), who truly finds joy and a sense of purpose “jamming” with the other women on the team. Her long-term partner, Michelle (Elinor Gunn), is the household’s primary breadwinner and, while initially supportive, begins to feel Joy drifting away.
Joy begins a flirtatious friendship with Lizzie Lightning (Tania Verafield), a Hispanic tattoo artist who is the team’s star jammer. Their camaraderie upsets team manager Andrea the Vagiant (Alina Phelan), Lizzie’s former lover, who had to hang up her skates because of injuries.
It may sound melodramatic. But, the spotlight turns by other members of the ensemble add depth and nuance. There is a particularly effecting monolog by Squeaky Mouse (Liesel Hanson), a formerly runty college student whose roller derby participation has transformed her and made her stand tall. At her graduation, she notes, “Outside the womb of college, we’re gonna feel less than. We’re gonna feel short. But it’s just an illusion — a trick of the giants around us. Don’t let nobody take away your voice — make it louder.” Other standouts include nurturing Anna-Stecia (Yolanda Snowball) and tough-talking Diaz de los Muertos (Crystal Diaz).
The “For the Love Of” production set design by Eli Smith is effectively simple. Most of the time, the stage is a locker room. However, the creative use of square and rectangle boxes decorated on each side enables constant transformations into non-gym sites. They turn from lockers into beds or windows. A box may be a headstone on one side and a lamp on another. While cast members move them around behind the scenes, other members capture the audience’s attention with workouts, dances or simulated skating scenes choreographed by Kohl.
While only at the Kirk Douglas another week, “For the Love Of (or, The Roller Derby Play)” offers a fun, upbeat evening depicting people who found something in life that empowers them. As Joy Ride offers in a pep talk to her teammates, “People spend their entire lives searching for something that they can fight for, and we all found it. We all have it.”
By Dyanne Weiss
Performance March 9, 2019
Center Theatre Group: “For The Love Of (or, the Roller Derby Play)” Opens at Douglas
Photos by Craig Schwartz of (top) Briana Price, (middle) Liesel Hanson and (bottom) Crystal Diaz in “For The Love Of (or, the roller derby play)” at CTG’s Kirk Douglas Theatre.