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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Review- Amerissiah (The Amoralists)

The Fab Marquee review by Dianna Martin.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I was seated for The Amoralist's production of Amerissiah. A play about a degenerate family, a terminally ill cancer patient who thinks he is God, and over two hours of non-stop heightened dark comedy about the two combined? It exceeded my expectations - and demanded an open mind to allow it to absorb.

George Walsh (Johnny), Nancy Clarkson (Holly), William Apps (Ricky), Matthew Pilieci (Bernie),
James Kautz (Terry), Jennifer Fouche (Carrie), and Dierdre Brennan (Margi)
Photo Credit: James Kautz
The Ricewater clan is a family that is made up of people who inspire jokes about the need for birth control. The patriarch, John, (George Walsh) is a used car salesman who, with his "daddy's little girl" lisping daughter, Holly, (Nancy Clarkson) embezzled money from their employees' medical insurance funds, but are convinced that her ex-husband attorney Bernie, (Matt Pilieci) will keep them from jail. The youngest son, Ricky, (William Apps) is a currently clean drug addict with a history of abusing his girlfriends including current love interest and fellow addict Loni (Selene Beretta); Ricky insists this time he's changed...and we believe him. In the middle is Barry (Adam Fujita) who is dying of cancer and his older hippie wife Margi (Dierdre Brennan), who is on her third husband who has died of an illness because she convinced them to not seek treatment and let nature take it's course.

Barry thinks he is God, and as he smokes joints for his pain, he hobbles about the stage with a makeshift crutch made from a mop, expounding on what he will do for the world once he dies and goes back his heavenly realm - and some of his ideas are not so saintly, but perfect for THIS family. Everyone goes along with what they are convinced are delusions to keep him happy, until a psychic, Carrie, (Jennifer Fouche) walks in the door who claims that she is his disciple, followed by her wanna-be-rapper husband Terry (James Kautz). Suddenly, the idea that there may be something to Barry's messiah complex is on the table, as people begin to own up to their faults, admit they have problems that run deep, and take a little responsibility for their actions. The irony is that everyone seems to learn something except for Margi - who appears at first to be above it all at the top of the play, but we come to realize she is possibly the worst one of them all; for she hides behind a flower-child granola exterior and doesn't admit that she may have been wrong to convince Barry to not seek treatment (or her other husbands). She refuses to accept responsibility until the very end - which asks the audience to take a leap of faith of sorts and leaves us with many questions.

Matthew Pilieci (Bernie), Nancy Clarkson (Holly), and Adam Fujita (Barry)
Photo Credit: James Kautz
Amerissiah is not a play for everyone...but for those willing to go on the journey, it can be a treat. Writer/Director Derek Ahonen leaves no stone unturned and few issues untouched, and his writing is definitely meant to provoke the audience more than just entertain. The actors - and the script - make big choices, which are more interesting to see than a lot of theatre out there; the only problems with this play are that sometimes those choices are filled, and sometimes they're not. To everyone's credit, its VERY difficult to maintain that heightened reality for that long. I thought I was at a Sam Sheppard play for a minute; an almost A Lie of the Mind - like memory came to me (I was there for the original many times) as the fantastic yet realistic characters, the bizarre and high-level madness and fever that is the dysfunctional family unit; and, again, the fact the the audience is subjected to this for two and a half hours. However, not a person in the theatre was looking at their watch; they were watching the stage. And that is evidence that no matter if sometimes Barry's ravings get to be too much, or John's obvious oblivious nature seems almost unnatural and forced (by both the actor and the character) or the yelling that Holly does 3/4 of the play begins to get on your nerves (I was delighted at the scene with her and Bernie discussing their failed marriage; it brought a new dimension to her character) still makes you want to watch it until the end. And discuss it and think about it when you get home.

And that is what theatre is all about.

Selene Beretta (Loni), William Apps (Ricky), Adam Fujita (Barry),
Dierdre Brennan (Margi) and Nancy Clarkson (Holly)
Photo Credit: James Kautz

I must give kudos to the fantastic set and lighting designers, Alfred Schatz and Jeremy Page, respectively; they added elements to this play and allowed the actors to create an even more obscenely bizarre world set in an old Bronx apartment. Costume designer Ricky Lang really hit the nail on the head for every character - well done.

I just hope that perhaps with a little tightening of the script and the director making the actors fill the choices more if he was going to go over the top to that length and degree, this play becomes something that more people will see and will be shelved alongside other plays - like some of Sheppard's work - for although some people may walk out wanting more answers, sometimes the answers are not what we need.

The Amoralists Theatre Company present
Nov 13 – Dec 7, 2008 (Mon-Sat @ 8pm; Sundays @ 3pm)
Gene Frankel Theatre

This show is now closed. To learn more about The Amoralists Theatre Company and their upcoming productions, visit

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