nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
June 7, 2010
Johnny Ricewater owns a chain of car dealerships, and he and his daughter Holly are in hot water for swindling money. Johnny's son Ricky is a reformed drug addict with a socially awkward girlfriend whom he occasionally slaps around. And then there's Johnny's other son, Barry.
Thirtysomething Barry is married to a 60-year-old ex-hippie.
He is also purposefully dying of bone cancer.
Because he thinks he's God and has to return to heaven to make things right.
If you thought the Weston family of Tracy Letts's August: Osage County was dysfunctional, you obviously haven't spent time with the Ricewaters, the family at the center of writer/director Derek Ahonen's zany morality tale Amerissiah. Family dysfunction and discord is nothing new to the stage, but Ahonen, one of the co-founders of the genius up-and-coming theater troupe The Amoralists, takes it to brand new, shockingly original heights.
First presented in 2008, Amerissiah kicks into high gear at the end of the mostly expository first act, when Terry and Carrie Murphy, an interracial married couple from Missouri, arrive on the Ricewaters' doorstep with the strange idea that Carrie was told to go there. By God. AKA Barry.
Ahonen's vivacious, outrageously funny script perfectly matches his vivacious, outrageously funny production. There's a lot of screaming, a LOT of screaming, but the performances are solid, especially the vigorously physical work of Amoralist co-founder Matthew Pilieci, clad only in a Mickey Mouse nightgown (costumes by Ricky Lang) as Barry. Yet one shines above the rest, and that is Nick Lawson as Terry, the doo-rag, baggy pants, jive-spouting wannabe gangsta rapper, who uses the f-word and the N-word as if they were punctuation. He steals the entire show.
What I liked best about Amerissiah was that, for the first time in a long time, I walked out of the theatre ready to have a discussion. My companion did, as well, far different from mine. Like most people first exposed to the work of The Amoralists, she had absolutely no idea what to make of the whole thing. "It was strange," she said. And I nodded. And then we started talking about religion. About God. About life and death. And that felt good.
But the best news was the insert in the program, announcing that, for a limited run over the summer at P.S. 122, The Amoralists are bringing back their two big hits, The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side and Happy in the Poorhouse. For those who didn't see them the first time, go. Take a look at the future of downtown New York theatre.