Pink Knees on Pale Skin
Written and directed by Derek Ahonen
Animals and Plants
Written and directed by Adam Rapp
The Amoralists' plays usually take place in one room from which the company's uniquely fervent actors claw across the short distance between audience and performers; now we're in the room with them. HotelMotel, a pair of new plays written and directed by co-founder Derek Ahonen and playwright Adam Rapp (through September 19), takes place in a small room at the Gershwin Hotel with an audience of twenty sitting around its perimeter.
In the first piece, Pink Knees on Pale Skin, Ahonen mixes sex farce and psychodrama for something like a hybrid of Shortbus and Patrick Marber's Closer. Marriage-rescuing sexpert Sarah (Sarah Lemp) is treating two couples who are paying her four-figure sums to organize an orgy: poor artsy twentysomethings Allison and Theo (Anna Stromberg and Byron Anthony), and middle-class thirtysomethings Caroline and Robert (Vanessa Vache and James Kautz). The coaching scenes between Sarah, Allison and Theo are funny and sweet, and both the slightly pompous playwright-within-the-play and his eager-to-please wife come off endearingly. But our interest wanes in scenes between Caroline and Robert, their revenge-sex scenario having been more inventively portrayed in so many affair plays. In the final switch, Sarah turns out to be more in need of relationship counseling than her clients, a reversal that rings more haphazard than meaningful.
Pink Knees looks especially weak alongside Rapp's Animals and Plants, which taps into a whole other set of pre-existing tropes (buddy road movies and claustrophobic drug plays) without ever following them predictably. During intermission—both are full-length plays, making for a three hour, fourty-five-minute evening—the lavish Manhattan hotel suite of Ahonen's opener becomes a trashy taxidermy-decorated motel room. "Welcome to Boone, North Carolina," begins narrator-cum-villain Buck (Brian Mendes). "Boone is exactly 3,333 feet above sea level. All those consecutive threes. Strange, don't you think?" New York dealers Dantley (William Apps) and Burris (Matthew Pilieci) are in town for a delivery that's been delayed by a snowstorm, their affectionate, hilarious banter a prelude to violent and surreal events. When a frightened local woman (Katie Broad) arrives seeking shelter Rapp ratchets up the mystic symbolism and cabin fever, though as is often the case in his plays, the final act of violent release is completely unexpected. Rapp's gloomily beautiful thriller makes up for Ahonen's uneven comedy, though both benefit from the intimate staging—you're equally likely to be splattered with blood or slapped by a swinging penis.
(Photo: Monica Simoes)