By: JK Clarke
Traditionally, horror stories have been used as a cautionary morality tale. From Dracula up through the slasher film genre (i.e. the Friday the 13th series), individuals with the loosest morals were always the first to be dispatched. While the four philanderers of The Amoralists’ The Cheaters Club (playing at the Abrons Arts Center through September 21) meet a rather unfortunate fate, the message ends up twisting in another direction.
The trouble starts not long after three Italian-American siblings with thick Staten Island accents, Tommy, Jimmy and Cathy (Matthew Pilieci, Byron Anthony, and Cassandra Paras), along with their nervous friend Vonn (Jordan Tisdale) arrive in Savannah, Georgia and check into the most haunted inn in America that’s got a room “so haunted they don’t even let people in it.” The haunted hotel is just supposed to be just a backdrop for their dirty weekend where they intend to have extramarital affairs with “scared drunken sloths.” They all remove and pocket their wedding rings, even reluctant Vonn, the only one actually getting revenge on spouse who has admitted to cheating, and the fun begins.
Or so they think. Life is full of plans that never quite bear out, and after a drunken night that includes belligerent confrontations with locals and the family that runs the The Chaney Inn and its old timey saloon next door, and then a frantic call that forces Cathy to decide to return home early the next morning, they turn in. But, when Cathy knocks on Tommy’s door for a ride to the airport she gets no response and presumes he is passed out drunk. Turns out he isn’t, and momentarily Cathy is abducted by a ghostly presence in the haunted room. Apparently, unlike that other den of iniquity, who goes to Savannah, stays in Savannah.
There is something sinister indeed going on in the Chaney Inn. We are introduced to the scene by ghost tour guide Vladimir Anton (a delightful and entertaining Zen Mansley), who, though bitter about a stalled acting career, is nonetheless ensconced in the local intrigue, having mysteriously lost his dear friend Johnny, the pater familias of the Inn, some years ago.
It’s difficult to go into too much detail without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that voodoo, the undead and a good deal of self delusion come into play. Although the impressively large cast add a great deal to the production — particularly Matthew Pilieci, Zen Mansley, Sarah Lemp (as the devious Mama Chaney), James Rees (as Mama’s son Lee, a Lurch meets Norman Bates mashup) and an amusing secondary role by Ben Reno as Piano Man — the real standouts were Derek Ahonen’s terrific script and adept hand at direction; and Alfred Schatz’s magnificent set, whose detailed exteriors of an old, wood shingled façade, which proved transparent (allowing us to see inside hidden rooms) when lit from within.
The Amoralists have lived up this season to portraying, at the very least, the moral ambiguity of heretofore black and white ethical scenarios. Not only does it make for unconventional and fresh theater, it also inspires thought and discussion, as theater should. Moreover, The Cheater’s Club, at it’s very base, is an entertaining and satisfying romp which features intrigue and all the dirty little secrets that are such a staple of modern entertainment of late.
The Cheater’s Club – running time 2 hrs. 30 min. Through September 21 at the Abrons Arts Center (466 Grand Street at Pitt Street). www.theamoralists.com or call 866.811.4111 for tickets.