Is it any wonder that the shy, sweet, sad Dantly, so well-defined, simply played, and imagined by the actor William Apps in Adam Rapp’s Animals & Plants—part of an on-site double bill called HotelMotel currently playing at the Gershwin Hotel (it also includes new work by Derek Ahonen)–doesn’t believe he has any ideas (although he "used to”)? Rapp has written at least seven plays since 2007 (Animals & Plants was originally produced in 2001), as has Ahonen, and both are representatives of what might as well be termed speed theatre writing, which may be a necessary method for all of today’s dramatists (whether their characters are chips off the old blocks or not). Is it any wonder, too, that Dantly also questions whether “he takes up space in anyone’s head”? Finding one or several answers to this conundrum—“need me, even if I presently don’t have a whole lot to say”–may be an essential concern, and experience, for all playwrights in the age of Twitter and Facebook, if not before—it’s certainly a challenge to and a far cry from the preferred two years Richard Rodgers felt needed to be taken between productions in the last century.
In both Rapp’s and Ahonen’s cases the authorial rewards probably can’t be the leaps we see between an Oklahoma! and a Carousel, but I think part of what makes this production, from the Amoralists, worth seeing, is the degree to which these two artists are showmen, moving forward in spite of their own rough edges. Rapp’s play, while tracing the pulse of a contemporary writers’ issue, is like a literary novella, a tale that looks like a play, quacks like a play, but still seems written by Flannery O’Connor, ornamented for the avant-garde. The story of two New York drug dealers selling mushrooms in a Southern college town is strange and weird, Pinteresque, Shepardian, Steinbeckian, and extremely well paced, point by point, step by dramatic step. You might decide the play is earnest, thoughtful, even charming, but too literary, passive, hollow, lacking in conflict; that the vision of shock and awe, so compelling in Rapp’s last outing with the Amoralists in the fall, Ghosts in the Cottonwoods, comes too late here and isn’t earned. You may feel also that the female nudity is too little, the male nudity too pervasive (it may seem like you’re in a locker room during these plays, more than a hotel, actually, which might not be a bad venue for this group) and the male minds too deliberately dim in both plays of the evening–there’s plenty to debate and conjecture for all. What has to be said, nonetheless, is that the direction for Animals & Plants is thorough, the production well-appointed and the mystical elements incorporated as well as they’re going to be—the play just seems most interested in its surfaces. Apps gets his acting break, though, Matthew Pilieci proves again that he is always someone to share a stage with—and Katie Broad and Brian Mendes are not unbalancing, for the larger play, as a couple beyond salvation. Whether expected or not, whether because of the timing of the beats at the end, whether it’s the size of the audience (there are only 20 viewers per show), nobody clapped at the end of the performance I saw, not even me (who wanted and expected to). I’m clapping now.
The prototypes for Derek Ahonen’s new play may lie with Rosalind in As You Like It or Lysistrata, but the world he’s referring to often comes straight out of bad pop culture. His stage–messy, funny, carnal, excessive, physical—overflows with unaffected life. It’s such a switch from self-important, experimental New York theatre that I don’t think anyone really minds if his plays can come off as lacking in rigor or don’t quite make sense–there are too many counterbalancing pleasures. In Pink Knees on Pale Skin (the title connotes a turn-on for one of the characters), you may wonder whether Ahonen is being influenced by ‘70s porn or Love American Style or both. His characters somehow get lost in the wrong time, and we’re often left with a sense of the anachronistic. Maybe, for example, you can be convinced that therapies similar to those by Arthur Janov and Theodore Reisch are being practiced by a swinging therapist/hooker in the back room of the Gershwin Hotel today. I thought the cops might bust in. But that would destroy the wild, hedonistic merriment—because Ahonen loves life, even though he sometimes thinks he needs to be heavy (like exposing his thoughts on God at the end of Amerissiah).
When you’re watching the writing of writers who are writing all the time, you’re watching their growth spurts. In Pink Knees on Pale Skin, I felt Ahonen was a little more outside of his characters than usual, less open to them—for example, a passage where the sex therapist, played by Sarah Lemp, is trying to get rid of the patients, while true and funny, seemed more director/writer-driven than character-driven. I also felt the parts in this production needed to be developed more, because primarily Ahonen is working with actors he knows well (Lemp, James Kautz, Jordan Tisdale, Anna Stromberg, and the newcomer Byron Anthony—can all do just about anything; Vanessa Vache, also new to the Amoralists, is an exception, because she rather completely exposes the strained anger in a betrayed wife). I began seeing the show as a harmless one-note joke, not bad for working on a fast turnaround (Ahonen had just rewritten Bring Me the Head of Your Daughter for an April production). Then, a corps actor Nick Lawson, extremely talented, entered from the back of the playing area, and I saw the show tense, tighten, become frightening. The part was right; the actor was right. The stage was being held; I only wished Ahonen had stayed with that fear longer, not gotten out of it so easily, because then he was his own Ionesco, that was the Absurd, these were the growing pains into a very dangerous place.
At this point, Ahonen is a giver who knows how to make use of actors and show them to their best advantages; he knows how to challenge them, embolden them, write good, big parts for them, so much so that you might remember the actor more than the role he or she is playing. Ahonen can over-explain, as he does with his sex therapist’s past history here; like this character, too, who has “helped” so many people, he may have days where he feels he wants to be left to “rot alone” or, like Rapp’s receding character Dantly, find himself getting paranoid. I think both Ahonen and Rapp have shown us that it may be injurious to view playwriting as a way to disengage, as an isolated and isolating task: that writing is really directing, is really acting, is really producing (perhaps the dramatist has to come down from the tower). But it’s clear also from this show that the constant work exacts a toll: writing in a dressing room even when there are no ideas, scouting out locations in a hotel to see if such a concept will get into somebody’s head, countless other pressures downloading onto the hard drive.
Meet the new playwrights in a hurry–all artists, all the time: Next deadline; moving on.
© 2011 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.
Photo: Sarah Lemp as Dr. Sarah Bauer (top) and James Kautz as Robert Wyatt (bottom) in Pink Knees on Pale Skin. Photographer: Monica Simoes. All rights reserved.
Publicist: David Gibbs/DARR Publicity
New York, NY – The Amoralists are proud to present HotelMotel, a site-specific theatrical event featuring the New York Premiere of Animals and Plants, written and directed by Obie Award-winner Adam Rapp, and the World Premiere of Pink Knees on Pale Skin, written and directed by Derek Ahonen. HotelMotel runs Off-Broadway from August 4 – 29, 2011 at The Gershwin Hotel, located at 7 East 27 Street between Madison & Fifth Avenues in New York City. Previews begin August 4 for an August 10 opening.
Performances are Wednesdays – Saturdays and Mondays at 7pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $60 and can be purchased on the web at http://www.SmartTix.com or by calling 212-868-4444. No one under 17 will be admitted. Train access via the N, R or #6 to 28 St. For more information visit http://www.TheAmoralists.com.
Check in to a double feature at HotelMotel for The Amoralists’ most penetrating theatrical experience yet. Explore betrayal, redemption, and the human need to be close to someone else – even for a fleeting moment. With only 20 audience members at each performance, nothing you have ever seen can prepare you for this epic experience of intimacy. The Amoralists. HotelMotel. Check in.
Animals and Plants – On the night of a terrible blizzard, two drug runners are snowbound in a cheap motel room at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. As they wait for their connection, they are visited by a mysterious young woman who may or may not figure into their future. While the snow mounts and the night slips into darkness, the money disappears, a long-time friendship is tested, and all three of their lives will be changed forever.
Adam Rapp is a novelist, filmmaker and an Obie Award-winning playwright and director. He is the author of numerous plays, including The Metal Children, Nocturne, Faster, Hallway Trilogy, Finer Noble Gases (2006 Edinburgh Fringe First Award), Stone Cold Dead Serious, Blackbird, Gompers, Essential Self-Defense and Red Light Winter (Obie Award), which was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Rapp is the author of the novel, The Year Of Endless Sorrows, and the graphic novel, Ball-Peen Hammer. Rapp’s playwriting honors include The Helen Merrill Award, The 2006 Princess Grace Statue, a Lucille Lortel Playwright’s Fellowship and The Benjamin H. Danks Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He wrote and directed the films Winter Passing and Blackbird. In the fall he will begin pre-production for the film version of Red Light Winter, which he is directing for Scott Rudin Productions. “[Rapp] is a gifted storyteller. He makes demands on his audience, and he rewards its close attention with depth and elegance,” wrote The New Yorker’s John Lahr.
The cast for Animals and Plants features Matthew Pilieci, William Apps, Katie Broad and Brian Mendes.
Pink Knees on Pale Skin – To save their undersexed marriages, The Wyatt and Williams families are meeting with Dr. Sarah, aka The Orgy Counselor. The plan: to participate in an organized orgy held in a discrete hotel room. But on this particular night, Dr. Sarah has designed a self-destructive twist, guaranteed to unleash chaos upon all involved. Pink Knees on Pale Skin is a comedy about orgies gone bad and a drama about marriage and regret.
Derek Ahonen is the resident playwright of The Amoralists Theatre Company. His plays with The Amoralists include The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side, Happy In The Poorhouse, Bring Us The Head Of Your Daughter, Amerissiah, Pokin The Bears In A Zoo and While Chasing The Fantastic. All plays by Derek Ahonen are published and available through Playscripts, Inc.
The cast for Pink Knees on Pale Skin features Sarah Lemp, Jordan Tisdale, James Kautz, Vanessa Vache, Byron Anthony, Anna Stromberg and Nick Lawson.
The Amoralists is a theatre company that produces work of no moral judgment. Dedicated to an honest expression of the American condition, our actor driven ensemble explores complex characters of moral ambiguity. Leaving no stone unturned, we plunge the depths of the social, political, spiritual and sexual characteristics of human nature. With hundreds of young companies in the theater community, The Amoralists are doing work that is widely recognized for accomplishing the aforementioned points while simultaneously making it completely accessible to all audiences – whether veteran or inexperienced theatergoers – therefore putting theater at the heart of our community and expanding the possibilities and reaches of the arts. By combining our work’s accessibility with its moral ambiguity, we believe that it truly initiates a startling dialogue between artist and audience. Rollicking, rebellious, and raw, our work will go home with you…Boom!
Critical acclaim for The Amoralists
“The Amoralists cements its reputation as the most promising, crowd-pleasing ensemble to emerge downtown.” ~ The New York Times
“Nobody else weds old-fashioned realist structure to working-class-hero lunacy quite this way, and no other acting collective seems so raw, so heartfelt, so exuberantly extreme onstage and off.” ~ TimeOut New York
“One who comes to know their work begins to appreciate the way the Amoralists’ brazen technique invigorates even as it assaults.” ~ The Drama Review
“My gut is that part of the future of American theatre rests with these guys.” ~ NYTheatre.com
“The Amoralists have become one of the most exciting theater companies in New York City through the intense collaboration of a group of amazing young actors with the powerhouse playwright/director Derek Ahonen.” ~ The Connecticut Post
The creative team consists of Alfred Schatz (Set Design), Keith Parham (Lighting Design), Jessica Pabst (Costume Design), Phil Carluzzo (Sound Design), Gretchen Hollis Steinbrunner (Assistant Director – Animals and Plants), Lucas Beck (Assistant Director – Pink Knees on Pale Skin), Jaimie Van Dyke (Stage Manager), Jeremy Chernick (Special Effects), Judy Merrick (Prop Master) and Danica Novgorodoff (Artwork). Cast swings include Selene Beretta, Gretchen Hollis Steinbrunner and David Nash. The production team consists of Shoshona Currier (Producer), Kelcie Beene (Associate Producer), Anthony Francavilla (General Manager), Sean Bauer (Director of Production), Caroline Hendrix (Director of Development) and Seena Hodges (Director of Marketing).