Two shows with short engagements, Amerissiah by Derek Ahonen and Sister Myotis's Bible Camp by Steve Swift, are by playwright serialists keeping their actors working. Whether these constructions turn out to be pivotal to the larger visions of each remains to be seen, but the evenings are noteworthy because they bring religious themes to downtown theatre. One audience member from Tennessee, where Sister Myotis originates, told me she was a little afraid New Yorkers weren't understanding the humor in the dialogue–it was so specific to Memphis and its environs. I don’t think it matters: This is a little, cheery show, with dedicated performers–and elements of Southern Gothic–that counts on audience participation—and, here, it's not exactly playing in God's country. We understood the drag queen, but her power within a community seems remote–this is less of the case on YouTube where Sister Myotis has been viewed by over 2,600,000 viewers. Once the long-suffering off-off-Broadway theatre understands how to welcome her, it might start seeing real numbers as well.
Derek Ahonen is also building a franchise with his tales from the boroughs–recently he has said he'd like to bring in two plays a year. His work has been compared to TV shows and pop art–I'd even add sports teams and porn movies, where we recognize the stars and the action is never very far away. Ahonen’s speed, his big emotions, his ability and excess are gathering a cult—like the Pied Piper he’s previously referenced in a title, he guides by the senses. And, having seen several of his works now, I can see the loyalty of his audiences. In Amerissiah, a dying man is convinced he's God–of course, he's living the fantasy through the wreckage of his family (this time in the Bronx). They are joined by two Southerners, a psychic and her husband–Jennifer Fouche and Nick Lawson. Actually, we may never know what the duo are really saying (they might as well be speaking Martian), as opposed to the characters in Sister Myotis, but they're wired, and they focus the show—you’ll love Lawson’s entreaties to his wife to pick winning lotto numbers out of thin air. Ahonen’s other stalwarts are on hand, too: Sarah Lemp playing a daughter gone to the dark side; James Kautz, all buttoned up this time instead of parading in his underwear; and Matthew Pilieci, turning gray and green and blue. I'm going to leave it to other theatergoers to theorize on the meaning of the show as it moves into religious ecstasy–what I cared about was being part of the experience.
© 2010 by Bob Shuman
(‘Sister Myotis’s Bible Camp’ plays through July 4 at Abington Theatre Company (Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, 312 W. 36th Street, 1st floor, 212-868-2055); ‘Amerissiah’ closed at Theatre 80 St. Marks.
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