For those of us who have been following The Amoralists for a few years, the announcement that they were going to produce two plays in a Manhattan hotel room didn’t come as that much of a surprise.
The acting troupe and their resident playwright Derek Ahonen have stressed realism and a direct connection with the audience in a series of crazy, wonderful plays since they banded together in 2007, including “The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side,” “Happy in the Poorhouse” and “Bring Us the Head of Your Daughter.”
As the actors have gotten more in sync with Ahonen’s wild world view — and formed a genuine ensemble by working together again and again — the feeling of intimacy at the Amoralists’ shows has increased.
The plays have become experiences as well dramatic events, so why not go all the way and get a room with these theatrical adventurers?
“HotelMotel” consists of two plays, “Pink Knees on Pale Skin” by Ahonen, and “Animals & Plants” by Adam Rapp, who came into the orbit of The Amoralists when they put on a devastating production of his “Ghosts in the Cottonwoods” at Theatre 80 St. Marks last year.
Each play runs about 90 minutes and they are so different in tone and presentation that it’s a good thing there’s a fairly long break in between them — “Pink Knees” is a black comedy about a very unorthodox sex therapist and “Animals & Plants” drops us into a beat-out rural motel room where two drug runners kill time by talking about things both mundane and cosmic.
It was a risk to present these plays together — on paper, they wouldn’t appear to be a natural fit — but what binds them is the sensational, totally focused acting of The Amoralists company and the way that the writer-directors use the same space for such different purposes.
“Pink Knees” starts off looking like a comedy sketch about one of the hoariest cliches in literature and drama — the therapist who is more screwed up than her patients. As we go deeper into the story, however, Ahonen keeps shifting gears and his mix of screwball comedy and intense dramatic confrontations seems to be the perfect way to approach characters who are at a sexual standstill because of their defenses and role playing.
Dr. Sarah Bauer (played by the awesome Sarah Lemp) seems like a weirdly uptight, bad joke when we first meet her, but then, in classic Ahonen style, the doctor’s crackpot notions start looking like a completely sane way of coping with the mysteries of sexual connection.
“Animals and Plants” is a much more overtly unsettling play than the Ahonen piece, a feeling Rapp accentuates by changing the configuration of the Gershwin room so that the 20 audience members are even closer to the action. Because Rapp deals in mysticism and madness and violence, seeing the play this way is unsettling and scary in a manner that no horror movie could duplicate.
Veteran Amoralists players William Apps and Matthew Pilieci are the two New Yorkers on a drug run to a North Carolina college town which is being shut down by a blizzard.
Dantly and Burris shoot the breeze for much of the running time and the dialogue between the slovenly, near-catatonic Dantly and the hyper-active, meticulously groomed Burris is as funny as it is strange. Dantly hears voices and has visions — which we share through some pretty amazing low-tech stagecraft — and we fear what actions he might take as a result.
Rapp doesn’t write conventional beginning-middle-end plays but he works in a form of heightened realism that is electrifying. If the writer-director ever made an out-and-out horror movie the results might be too frightening to contemplate.
“HotelMotel” delivers two provocative plays — for the price of one — played to the hilt by one of the best acting companies in New York. Tickets are scarce but you should try your best to get to the Gershwin between now and August 29 when The Amoralists will be checking out.
For ticket information, go to www.theamoralists.com