"For The Love Of" is an energetic dive into the world of a team of renegade roller derby women who struggle with the balance between their hectic lives and the sport they love. Premiering at the Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood, this all-female cast and design team smash patriarchal theater norms and deliver a heartfelt and moving piece of art.
Directed and choreographed by Rhonda Kohl, "For The Love Of" follows Joy Ride (Cassandra Blair) as she joins one of the best roller derby teams, the Brooklyn Scallywags, and befriends derby star Lizzie Lightning (Tania Verafield). Joy lives in Jersey with long-term partner Michelle (Elinor Gunn) in a loving and happy relationship, but early on there are warning signs of their possible dissolution. We spend the rest of the play wondering, will Joy stay with her long-term girlfriend, or will she develop a relationship with the new badass? For a show that is otherwise forward and inclusive, this plot crutch is a bit tiresome, but incredibly effective. You'll spend the whole show absorbing interactions and guessing how it will end.
The Theatre of NOTE is a compact black box in the middle of Hollywood, just blocks from the Pantages and Amoeba Music. While the space is small, it adds a character to the show. There are up to 14 women filling the "stage" creating a packed, energetic atmosphere. The actors are always so close, you know when they're looking at you, and the entire cast holds character and performs. There is no weak link among them. This cast features a diverse range of races and ages, and it was refreshing to see such a variety of talent.
While the backgrounds remain basic and neutral in color, the ladies of "For The Love Of" are vibrant and colorful. There's a level of detail that is highlighted by the nearness of them all. Most of the women wear custom jazz shoes (Costume Design by Vicki Conrad) that mimic the look of roller skates, a feature that could have easily been avoided but the addition takes the entire production to another level. The actresses also have character specific face paint that becomes synonymous with the characters. When Squeaky Mouse (Liesel Hanson), who usually sports three whiskers per cheek, enters stage donning a white graduation gown and a clean face, she's a whole different person. Merely a shadow of her true roller derby self.
The story here is about a team of roller derby players, and although they couldn't skate on stage, the phenomenal choreography more than makes up for it. It is intricate, exhilarating, and lends a sense of authenticity to the roles these women play. The choreography is unexpectedly interesting and my favorite part of this show.
"For The Love Of" is an emotional ride, full of laughter and sorrow. All of these women struggle but share a love of roller derby and the power they gain from it. The show tackles themes of forgiveness, stress, feelings of worthlessness, not knowing what you want from life, and just not knowing what you're doing. The experience was poignant and heartfelt, and it was a privilege to see this production in its debut.
"For The Love Of (or, the roller derby play)" is playing through May 26th at Theatre of NOTE (1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood). Tickets are $15-$25. For more information visit www.theatreofnote.com.