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Thomas Jay Ryan in The Amateurs

Review of The Amateurs at Vineyard Theatre

Tulis McCall
Tulis McCall

Well, the title of the play is a fit. The Amateurs is a well-meant play that, with the exception of a mildly interesting mid-section monologue, remains no more than well-meant. The actors are unable to transform this loose knit tale into anything resembling whole cloth. And it is not for lack of trying.

Set in the 14th century at the time of THE plague, this is the story of a ragamuffin troupe of actors schlepping across the countryside in search of #1) an audience and #2) the meaning of life. Their story is a series of parable with the feature characters being God (Thomas J Ryan) and the Seven Deadly Sins. Noah, played by and actor named Brom (Kyle Beltran), makes an appearance as does his wife who is played by the actor named Hollis (a 14th century name???) (Quincy Tyler Bernstine). There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about the efficacy of the arc to begin with. After all it was one big toilet for the animals, half of which these characters have never seen. There is a sort of half-with who is not half-witted at all named Gregory (Michael Cyril Creighton). Rona (Jennifer Kim) plays Shem as well as Shem's wife and has a lot going on underneath her robes. Finally a Physic (Greg Keller) appears. He is more or less on the lam because, let's face it, the Plague is not popular.

Soon we see that this whole story is a kind of inner journey of a search for peace. Noah's predicament and purpose are passed around the actors' circle. What is the point of everything when it seems like God has condemned everyone to death after he promised Noah he would never pull that stunt again.

The next chapter gives us the "author's" monologue in which we discover that one of Harrison's first memories is the Health Class he took back in the late 80's in which AIDS was discussed. It had an impact on him, as it should of course. The next benchmark was discovering a scene of a play in which Noah's wife refuses to go on the arc. These two instances were conflated into this play. At the conclusion of his monologue we are treated to a discovery monologue by Bernstine speaking as a contemporary actor who wants to share a discovery she made when performing as Mrs. Cratchit in A Christmas Carol.

After this the play chugs on through an appearance before a Duke and the requisite back-on-the-road again tune that everyone has been singing since the play started. That was a long time ago.

While there is nothing of substance in the text of the play, the odd part is that I was never lost or bored. These performers do make magic out of flotsam. They weave it in front of our eyes, and they deserved a standing ovation for being true to their craft. Rarely have so few done so much with so little for so many.

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

What the popular press says...

"In The Amateurs, a hilarious, slightly eggheaded and strangely moving medieval backstager that opened on Tuesday at the Vineyard Theater, he [Jordan Harrison] locates the dawning of individual character — onstage and off — in the moment people began to doubt God."
Jesse Green for New York Times

"For all its skill, the play rarely seems either more or less than self-conscious."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York

"How many times have theatergoers, halfway through a boring or inexplicable play, fantasized that the author walked onstage and explained what exactly the hell he or she was thinking? Jordan Harrison fulfills that wish in his new drama about an itinerant band of performers wandering through Europe in the 14th century during the Black Plague. Unfortunately, this intervention in The Amateurs, receiving its world premiere at the Vineyard Theatre, raises more questions than it answers."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - Time Out - Hollywood Reporter

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