Written and directed by Derek Ahonen
Plenty of theater critics have predicted big things for The Amoralists
, a theater company who had a downtown hit with The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side
, a sprawling work by the troupe's resident playwright, Derek Ahonen. That play earned comparisons to Sam Shepard
, and the Shepard influence is all over Amerissiah
, the new Amoralists's production at Theatre 80 St. Marks (through June 28). At its core is a high-pitched battle between a father and his children and even (gulp) between people and the ultimate father figure, god. It's telling that the hidden villain in Amerissiah
is Margie (Aysha Quinn), a seemingly sweet-tempered old hippie who turns a bland stare to all the violence going on around her while preaching New Age platitudes and smoking marijuana. Margie has convinced her husband Barry Ricewater (Matthew Pilieci) not to fight the cancer that's killing him, a dynamic that starts to have an allegorical weight as the play goes on. Ahonen is a playwright who is obviously loaded with talent, but he doesn't need to use all the colors in his coloring box at once like he does here. His dialogue too often gets shouted at you, and this isn't the actors' fault; they've obviously been directed by Ahonen to shout and then shout louder and then go all-out some more. Ahonen's staging is as haphazard as his characters; this is such a messy play that it's begging for a kind of clarifying hand, some focus that can keep the stage groupings from devolving into chaos.
When a couple, Carrie (Jennifer Fouche) and Terry (Nick Lawson), enter out of nowhere at the end of the first act and Terry starts howling and rapping, I thought, "Oh god, do we really need another character here who is totally out-of-control?" We already had a shrieking materialist, Holly (Sarah Lemp), a vulnerable but angry recovering drug addict, Ricky (William Apps), his incredibly high-strung new girlfriend Loni (Selene Beretta), a cartoonish, religious attorney (James Kautz), and a booming-voiced, crooked car salesman father, Johnny (George Walsh), all of whom scream at each other from across the stage and then scream at each other in clusters. Lawson is hilarious in the second act, and everybody here is hilarious at certain times, but the family members don't quite seem like family and the play's larger issues have a tendency to turn mawkish when they're spoken outright. Still, this is the kind of play I can imagine growing and improving greatly as the run goes on, and the overall atmosphere at this production is charged and heady; behind me at intermission, two young guys fell into an argument about Israel that got so heated I began to wonder if they were going to start punching each other. Better we fight and try to make leaps like Amerissiah
than fade into the apathy that has too often characterized Boomer children; it's time we made a theater for ourselves, and if we do it off the back of Sam Shepard, so be it.
(photo credit: Larry Cobra)