Jordan Harrison’s The Amateurs, at the Vineyard Theatre, starts off well telling the tale of an acting troupe running from the black plague. Then the show goes off track, as one of the actors (Michael Cyril Creighton), breaks the fourth-wall becoming the character of the author and tells us about his health class. He gives us what seems like a PC correct lecture on AIDS. He tells us what inspired the play, is that those whose ancestors had the plague helped boost their immunity to HIV. And then the play finishes. This is the short versions of what happens.
The show starts off with what seems like a less than capable acting troupe, getting rejected from town to town, by having bed pans dumped on them. In the troupe is the leader Larking (Thomas Jay Ryan) who plays God, privately and publically, his sometimes lover Rona (Jennifer Kim) who’s fed up with Larking’s cheating, sleeps with Gregory (Michael Cyril Creighton), the mentally challenged, but brilliant set designer and actor when nobody else is available. Hollis (Quincy Tyler Bernstein ) is fed up with the roles for woman, her brother Henry (Greg Keller) who is dying from the plague and his guilt-ridden lover Bram (Kyle Beltran) is keeping silent their relationship.
Just when the play gets interesting, the derailing happens and back to the play.
Bram who has caught the bubonic plague from Henry and develops boils resembling Kaposi’s sarcoma. The Psychic, a Jew (Greg Keller) joins the players. Rona ends up pregnant. The King, they are traveling to does not grant the wish they expected and Hollis playing Noah’s wife, refuses to get on the ark. In the end a happy ending of walking into the sunlight happens, as if by prayer.
The cast just doesn’t seem as funny as it should and director Oliver Butler, does not help. The show just seems to miss the style.
Where Harrison succeeds is he does have some funny one-liners, they just don’t go past that. He’s also is trying to say a lot, but seems to have gotten stuck mid-through and then could never pick up the momentum. This 90 minute piece of theatre, just seemed so much longer.
What did succeed was the lighting design by Jen Schriever, costume design by Jessica Pabst and clever sound design by Bray Poor. I especially loved David Zinn’s set design with a wagon that opened up to a fairy tale stage complete with lighting bolts, fluffy clouds and two headed strap on extra heads so one person could become three. The final mural was just beautiful to look at. Also kudos to mask and puppet designer, Raphael Mishler who created a version of large greek tragedy masks. Julie Taymor would be so proud.
The Amateurs: The Vineyard Theatre at 108 East 15thSt. until March 18th.