Improbably, The Amoralists' Cannibal-Raising Lesbians Disappoint

04/08/2011 7:30 AM |

Bring Us The Head of Your Daughter
Written and directed by Derek Ahonen

New York's most popular young "Downtown" (meaning Brooklyn) theater company The Amoralists face their greatest challenge yet in leader Derek Ahonen's unconventional family drama Bring Us The Head of Your Daughter (through April 24), one they don't quite meet. Until now a large part of the company's appeal was derived from the abandon with which its recurring group of actors attacked and inhabited Ahonen's maximalist texts and outsized characters, managing to lend texture and nuance to each rollicking scenario. With the familiar faces graduated—several to Adam Rapp's recent Hallway Trilogy at the Rattlestick—the four new company-members in Daughter have the energy but lack the chemistry of the previous group. As if to compensate, Ahonen takes on a whole grab-bag of issues in this domestic dramedy about a yuppie lesbian couple whose eighteen-year-old daughter is accused of killing and eating several midwestern housewives while in blackface.

Of course issues of gender, sexuality and class are not new territory for the company that gained widespread recognition for their comedy about idealistic pansexual squatters, The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side. There, though, the polyamorous group's sexcapades were so provocative because the actors never flinched in moments of unbridled lust and evocative tenderness. Here, the marriage between black hack artist Contessa (impressive Mara Lileas) and her self-hating Jewish alcoholic wife Jackie (Anna Stromberg) lacks intimacy, and mostly feels like another item that might be lost in the chaos. Stromberg's fabulous drunkenness provides many of the show's laughs. The more interesting relationship is that between Contessa and her long-lost brother Dexel (the commanding Jordan Tisdale), who turns up to rectify a childhood wrong and ask for money—possibly for AIDS medication. The siblings' interactions are volatile and unpredictable, alternately aggressive and affectionate, whereas the married couple seems incapable of genuine tenderness. The trio's tense interactions are regularly interrupted by answering machine messages of the sort that opens the play: "You lesbian sinners are going to burn in the smoky ruins of hell. Your eyes will be plucked from your skulls by demon gargoyles for every second of every minute in an eternity that will be unmerciful."

When the allegedly cannibalistic daughter Garance (Sarah Roy) turns up at the couple's increasingly claustrophobic Gramercy Park apartment wearing a burka and carrying a Hello Kitty bag, Ahonen reorients the third act into a too-literal joke about how the kids these days are narcissistic monsters. Roy plays the sickly sweet teen manipulator—a Lindsay Lohan-Lady Gaga hybrid—with unhinged brattiness. The second act's more complex dynamics and nuanced explorations of racial identity, family allegiances and the limits of forgiveness are squandered in favor of a drawn-out and directionless ending that makes Daughter feel even more dissatisfying than it really is. Some of these problems may dissipate as the run continues, but one hopes that Ahonen and his new Amoralists' next outing will develop a more potent group dynamic between these very powerful individual performers. Otherwise they'll just continue to cannibalize each other's charisma, and that'd be a damn shame.

(photo: Larry Cobra)