About a third of the way through Derek Ahonen's Amerissiah, a loose and depthless comedic play, comes the one engaging and vital vignette. That brief scene features Ricky Ricewater (Williams Apps), a junkie ne'er-do-well, coming home to a pit of an apartment in the Bronx with his edgy gal pal Loni (Selene Beretta), as he tries to comfort her while she freaks out over the booze, drugs, and scary family relations all around them. Why the singling out of this ancillary scene between peripheral characters? Because it is in these few theatrical moments that there are engaging character interactions, flashes of humor, and hints at genuine emotionality being played despite the nuttiness within and without.
The lion's share of the essentially artless Amerissah, however, is taken up with an unappetizing bouillabaisse of differing, weakly drawn characters, wobbly plot structure, and tiresome, exclamatory filler dialogue. Centering on the Ricewater family, the story concerns itself with scion Barry Ricewater (Adam Fujita), an unkempt, ranting, quasi-altruistic son, dying of cancer, who might possibly have a Christ-like destiny and could potentially aid his motley crew of dysfunctional family members. Nursing him to death are his New Agey mature wife Margi (Diedre Brennan) and the squabbling, corrupt father and daughter team of Johnny (George Walsh) and Holly Ricewater (Nancy Clarkson). Margi encourages Barry's spiritual proclivities, while Holly fears her pot-providing sister-in-law is feeding him multiple poisons. Rounding out Barry's dystopia are Christ devotee and family lawyer Bernie (Matthew Pilieci) who supposedly is invested in helping save the crooked family business and the spiritual pilgrim, Carrie (Jennifer Fouche), who arrives to bolster Barry's predilections toward sainthood. Utilizing a sizeable cast of characters to pump up a feeble storyline, much of the production's time under Derek Ahonen's unfocused direction is used to introduce characters and have them showcase their own idiosyncratic shtick, rather than methodically enrich the plot and propel it forward. Following frequently bizarre byplay, actors not directly involved in a dialogue exchange seem at a loss for how to pass the time. Plotting elements are brought up and later forgotten or abandoned. Much of the attempts at wacky humor are self-serving and not plot-forwarding or character-revealing. In this non-reality-based world, quaint virtues like cause-and-effect in dramatic action appear irrelevant. Consequently, with unhinged motivations and unseen consequences, the characters avoid eliciting any concern or interest. Perhaps the production element most committed to truth is Matthew Pilieci and Alfred Schatz's set design of a rundown Marble Hill apartment complete with dumpy furniture, an oddball moose-head trophy, extraneous boxes and tchotchkes littered everywhere, and a surreal multi-eyed painting well-suited for the paranoid.
(Amerissiah also features James Kautz and Erica McLaughlin.) Box Score:
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Copyright 2008 Adam Cooper