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Theater Review (NYC): ‘Bring Us the Head of Your Daughter’

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They call themselves The Amoralists. But in their newest play, this five-year-old company throws a mocking spotlight on the moralizing anti-gay avengers of today’s Religious Right. As usual, though, whatever message may be inherent in an Amoralists show is massaged with gleeful emotional violence into an outrageous story.

Using an entirely new set of actors, resident playwright Derek Ahonen (who also directs) gives us Contessa and Jackie, a married lesbian couple in their late 30s whose teenage daughter, Garance, is, according to news reports, on a rampage murdering and cannibalizing middle-class moms. Jackie (Anna Stromberg), a raging alcoholic, is the breadwinner, and though the girl is Jackie’s biological daughter, Contessa (Mara Lileas) has stayed at home to raise her. Like an old-fashioned heterosexual couple, Jackie doesn’t want Contessa to work.

As the pair fight and fret about money, Jackie’s drinking, their wayward progeny, and the harassing phone calls they keep getting from fire-breathing Christianists, what stands out is Ahonen’s ability to put characters in extraordinary circumstances and distill believable reactions from them so that we go with them wherever they take us. If, late in the play, the focus blurs a bit, I nevertheless felt grateful to have spent time in the company of these people, put so sympathetically through the wringer by the playwright with an optimal balance of drama and humor. (“You’re going to leave me, after all I’ve put you through?”)

That’s in large part thanks to the brave and powerful performances from the cast. Ms. Stromberg makes Jackie a complex, larger-than-life yet thoroughly sympathetic addict, and Ms. Lileas makes Contessa a marvel of controlled fury; together they’re everycouple to the nth degree. When an intensely believable Jordan Tisdale turns up as Contessa’s estranged half-brother Dexel, throwing a match on the spilled gasoline and inciting the revelation of a series of surprising secrets, the strength of the couple’s bond is tested but never really in doubt.

The Amoralists never hesitate to lay it on; not content with one incendiary spark, Ahonen then engineers the return of the prodigal daughter (in a sight gag too funny to give away). She’s as dangerous a character as any in the Amoralists’ oeuvre, though rather less believable than the rest here. Is she really a crazed serial killer, or just playing one on TV? Sarah Roy’s deliciously excessive performance isn’t quite enough to ground Garance in the play’s reality. But she’s a hoot.

New actors. No nudity. Can it really be an Amoralists show? You bet; the nakedness is all emotional, and the actors superb. Catch it while you can.

Bring Us the Head of Your Daughter plays at PS122’s 9th Space Theater through April 24. For more info visit The Amoralists online.

 

Photos by Larry Cobra. 1 (L-R): Anna Stromberg as Jackie Goldstein and Mara Lileas as Contessa Springs. 2 (L-R): On sofa: Mara Lileas as Contessa Springs, Sarah Roy as Garance Springs and Jordan Tisdale as Dexel Springs. Anna Stromberg as Jackie Goldstein (standing).

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
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