EXTENDED THRU MARCH 29
By Sandi Durell
Playwright Jordan Harrison (Marjorie Prime) has quite an imagination in this quirky, humorous play with music The Amateurs, directed by Oliver Butler, (original music and sound design by Bray Poor) currently at the Vineyard Theatre. It’s a play within a play as a theater troupe of awful 14th Century actors schlep from village to village in their wagon, that opens as a stage, while quoting biblical passages and trying to run from the Black Death.
God runs the show – well, who else? God is Larking (played by Thomas Jay Ryan) attempting to keep his merry band of actors in tow. They are an unwieldy lot including Brom (Kyle Beltran who plays Noah); Hollis (Quincy Tyler Bernstine who shows her feminist power as Noah’s wife); Rona (Jennifer Kim who goes both ways as Shem and Shem’s wife); The Physic (Greg Keller who is Henry-Hollis’ brother, an apparition and Doctor) and Gregory (Michael Cyril Creighton who plays the set designer and turns out to be lots more). And so enter the masked, robed players (costumes Jessica Pabst) in the guise of Pride, Gluttony, Wrath, Sloth, Lechery, Envy, Covetousness . . . making foolishness and flip remarks reminiscent of a vaudeville act.
Poor Gregory gets the brunt of it all from Larking, lamenting he only gets parts where his face is covered, as he continues whittling a lightning bolt.
They apparently aren’t met with much enthusiasm from their descriptions Gregory saying he has nightmares of a town running after them, yelling “Kill ‘em all”; Larking admitting “they bury us outside the city walls…and that’s if they like us.” Hollis is having a hard time because her brother Henry just died, while Rona is a loose chick who eventually winds up pregnant, giving birth and praying to St. Felicitas to make her a virgin again.
They talk a lot as we gain insight into their lives while they enact Noah and the Ark, and all the while Hollis shows her resistance when Noah asks her to join him on the Ark. She’s an early feminist.
Don’t know why.
Never had to know why.
I’m only told “Hollis, stand next to the sheep”
Or “Hollis, slaughter the Innocents”
Or “Hollis, birth the Christ child.”
Never know why just do.
If I started asking Why
I’d have to wonder why they welcome us to town by
Dumping bedpans on our heads
And why they say goodbye with tar and feathers . . .
And we begin to wonder . . . so where is this all going?
Act 2 begins as Gregory (Michael Cyril Creighton), in contemporary dress, appears as the Playwright trying to give explanation with his own brand of humor asking to “raise the houselights and look one another in the eye.” He relates a story about being ill informed on health issues when growing up and hearing about AIDS history and “gay, gay, gay” echoing around the classroom and funny insights about his gay professor. But the urgency is really about Noah’s wife when Noah asks her to join him on the Ark:
Yea, sir, set up your sail
And row forth with evil hail,
For without any fail,
I will not out of this town!
The response is interpreted as someone with muster during a time of struggle rising up not as “I” but as many I’s to make change. The Playwright continues to speak about societal changes and creativity in a humorous fashion invoking the nameless, the voiceless and powerlessness.
We return back to the 14th Century as the troupe finally arrives at the Duke’s Palace and are greeted by the Duke’s Major-Domo. Since the Duke never leaves his bedchamber he will watch their performance through a loose brick. Well, they make a mess of it, which reminded me of The Play That Goes Wrong (without scenery falling apart, just these actors) what with Rona giving birth shortly prior needing a stand in, but, lo and behold, they are rewarded with the coveted Duke of Travo Players as this was the funniest thing he’d seen.
And there you have it, another commentary in creative guise. Can have you squirming in your seat but take it or leave it, you have to admire the delivery.
Photos: Carol Rosegg
The Amateurs – Vineyard Theatre, 107 East 15 Street, thru March 18 no intermission, approximately 95 minutes.