nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
August 8, 2011
HotelMotel, the new double header by The Amoralists at The Gershwin Hotel on 27th Street, is not for the faint-of-heart. The experience, with only 20 seats per performance, gives you the opportunity to become a fly on the wall within the most intimate of encounters. Judging by the collectively covered eyes, cringes and dropped jaws during both Derek Ahonen’s wild and voyeuristic Pink Knees on Pale Skin and Adam Rapp’s heavy Animals and Plants, anyone who has ever wanted that experience will likely have changed their mind before they hit the street.
Be warned: true to form, both plays come with their fair share of full-frontal male nudity. At one point during Animals and Plants, depending on your side of the room, you may have an up close and personal view of William Apps’s genitals. But that’s nothing to the orgasm inflicted upon Anna Stromberg by Byron Anthony in Pink Knees. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
In Pink Knees, directed by Ahonen, the seats are assigned. That is, your name is called, you’re led into the back room of The Gershwin Hotel, and you are placed in a fold-out chair around the perimeter of a bedroom. A pianist (Phil Carluzzo) is playing a creepy melody towards the back. The play is a peek into a sexual workshop led by the cold and rather frightening Dr. Sarah Bauer (Sarah Lemp, always nuanced), where two couples, Robert and Caroline, and Allison and Theodore (James Kautz and Vanessa Vache, and Stromberg and Anthony) will have an orgy in an effort to save their marriages, as Dr. Bauer’s assistant and husband Leroy (Jordan Tisdale) hides naked under the bed ready to pop out and join in when needed. Not to give away too much, but Caroline, a high-priced attorney, is at her wit’s end after finding out Robert, a surgeon, has carried on a long-time affair with a candy striper. Meanwhile, Theodore has never been able to bring Allison to orgasm.
Animals and Plants, directed by Rapp, finds two drug runners from New York City trapped in a kitschy North Carolina hotel room during a snowstorm. As Dantly and Burris (William Apps and Matthew Pilieci) are awaiting the arrival of “The Burning Man,” they mull over their lives and friendship. When Burris ventures out into the snowstorm, Dantly discovers weird things starting to happen, made only stranger with the arrival of Cassandra (Katie Broad), a college drop-out unhappily married to an older man (Brian Mendes) who can foretell approaching death when her breasts start to leak.
This existential nightmare, a riff on Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter, is made even more uncomfortable by your proximity to the actors. While in Pink Knees you’re seated on the periphery of the action, you pick your own seat for Animals and Plants, scattered across this cluttered hotel room. In both, you find yourselves closer to the action than you ever thought (and wished) possible. It’s an intense, heart-pounding experience that, if you completely buy into it, will leave you shaking.
The performances are first-rate and very daring. The men deserve credit for letting it all hang out—actually and proverbially. Credit too must be given for how realistic the pieces feel, and in the moments of oral sex between Anthony and Stromberg, you can’t help but wonder where the lines of reality and the stage are drawn (there is no nudity in that sequence). Nick Lawson, though, delivers the evening’s most affecting performance as a character whose arrival comes very late into Pink Knees and entirely changes the game.
Set designer Alfred Schatz has done a mighty fine job of transforming a back room at the Gershwin into two very different settings, Jessica Pabst’s costumes are nicely realistic and Keith Parham’s lighting, particularly in Animals and Plants, is jaw-dropping in its beauty.
While both Ahonen and Rapp could afford to pick up the pacing of their respective plays (the first is 80 minutes, the second about 105), the nearly four hours you spend in the company of this crazy group fly by. And you may just end up realizing that voyeurism isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.