The current House of Dames show has, again, great actors (particularly Sarah Harlett and Susanna Burney, in '30s tough-guy modes as a shady promoter and Damon Runyon, respectively), an elegant, versatile set by Jeffrey Cook, and a slew of good songs by Kevin Joyce and David Russell. What it's missing is any clearly expressed goal.
Rain City Rollers joins a pair of ideas: a Depression-era roller-derby marathon and the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. The myth is jerry-rigged onto the derby: The marathon, which sets seven young women with the task of covering the distance between New York and San Diego by rolling around the track of a Seattle roller rink for months, is the brainchild of an Orpheus figure (the Emcee, played by Kevin Joyce) and his elderly love (Marjorie Nelson), who are apparently attempting to repeat their own story using a pair of the roller skaters (one living a second life as a male singer) to force a happy ending: This time the guy won't look back, and he'll keep his girl.
One good reason to use myths in art is that the plot becomes boilerplate, a given: You know Oedipus is going to doink his mother, and you know he's going to lose his eyes. With the story set, the piece can then become more about themes and interpretations. But this show presents an almost unrecognizable version of the Orpheus myth, where Eurydice is not returned to Hades, she just gets really old; Orpheus is not torn apart by the Maenads, but is cursed to remain forever young. These May-December relationships never work out, hence the couple's roller-derby plot.
Throughout the show, a basic gender-role critique simmers; I'd taken it as a backdrop for the show, rather than its point. But the crucial moment in the myth's re-creation, when the new young Orpheus inescapably looks back to see his love, is presented as moment of Boys Don't Cry-style revelation: She's a woman! And for that, she's torn apart by the Maenads (a pack of angry rival roller skaters), and déjà vu rules the day.