Pink Knees on Pale Skin by Derek Ahonen
Animals and Plants by Adam Rapp
The Amoralists at The Gershwin Hotel 7 East 27th Street
August 10, 2011 — September 19, 2011 [extended]
production web site:

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
August 12, 2011

William Apps (standing) and Matthew Pilieci (splayed in chair) in Animals and Plants. Audience close. Photo by Monica Simoes.

A double feature of domestic horror stories, at close range. One of the playwrights writes in the production playbill “Thank you for sitting so close.”  My response must be: you’re welcome, it is my pleasure.  I have been a production dramaturg and thrill to the discoveries that theatre artists make in the rehearsal room and in performance.  I am accustomed to finding my own comfort zone while allowing actors to create a world just inches away from me — to observe such creative processes is a pleasure and a privilege.  Those wonders of discovery and proximity are part of the experience that awaits you at HotelMotel.

The event begins as we leave our names and are called one by one, handed a room key, and ushered through a red curtain toward a young man who will “help us to our suite”.  In a back room where folding chairs are set up one by one as needed for our audience of 20, we settle around the edges of a rug on which is a double bed “upstage”, some extra floor space “downstage”, and a side room upstage that we are led to believe is a bathroom.  Pink Knees on Pale Skin by Derek Ahonen involves a marriage/sex therapist Dr. Sarah Bauer (Sarah Lemp), her husband and colleague Leroy (Jordan Tisdale), clients Robert and Caroline Wyatt (James Kautz and Vanessa Vache) and Theodore and Allison Williams (Byron Anthony and Anna Stromberg) and Bauer’s adolescent son Norman (Nick Lawson).  Our therapist announces she is going to mess with her clients’ heads during their interactions and she does this — soon dismissing one set while keeping the other around for ongoing mind games and the promise of sex games to cure what ails them.  Husband Leroy is hiding beneath the bed for much of the action, and emerges nude at one point.  Power plays abound, the therapist checks her watch at many moments suggesting early that an event or an arrival will emerge, and it does, creating a climax to the action.  There are committed performances, prolonged plot conceits, and a final resolution involving the adolescent son that might cause some parental nightmares.

After an intermission we troop back into the reconfigured room, with the bed moved at a right angle, fast food wrappers and full ashtrays adorning surfaces and the now ratty rug, and are free to seat ourselves.  Adam Rapp‘s Animals and Plants offers a smaller cast and a bit of magic realism in a remote motel room, evoking at many points images and memories of the surrealistic 1990s television series Twin Peaks.  Two misfit young men Dantley (William Apps) and Burris (Matthew Pilieci)  are trapped in a trashed motel room, waiting for a drug connection.  Or so we are led to believe.  A spacey empathetic hippie child Cassandra (the reference is not subtle — played by Katie Broad) sticks around for a while then bolts when things get grisly, while her shaman-like bearish husband Buck (Brian Mendes) lurks about the edges of the playing area. The acting is masterful, the stage effects realistic, and depending upon where you elect to sit you may (as I was) be quite up close and personal with some stage blood and naked bodies.

Both pieces could benefit from some tweaking with pacing and length.  And yet, the journeys for the characters and the intimate experiences as audience members are powerful.

© Martha Wade Steketee (August 17, 2011)

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