"I'll just order a bunch of shit and if people don't want it...fuck 'em." So says Johnny (George Walsh), the illicit patriarch of the Ricewater clan, though these words could just as easily be spoken directly by playwright Derek Ahonen as a way of describing his company--the Amoralists--and their balls-to-the-wall aesthetic. It's as good a way as any to describe the slapstick anarchy that develops over the course of shows like The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side, Happy in the Poorhouse, or Amerissiah, which they've currently revived as part of their explosive 2010 season. After all, in what other show could you find a recovering junkie, Ricky (William Apps), and his socially anxious girlfriend Loni (Selene Beretta); a fanatic Republican lawyer named Bernie (James Kautz) and his shyster Democratic ex, Holly (Sarah Lemp); a would-be white rapper named Terry (Nick Lawson) and his black wife, Carrie (Jennifer Fouche), both of whom think you're racist if you don't laugh at words like "nigger" and "bitch"; and at the heart of it all, a pot-smoking hippie, Margie (Aysha Quinn), and her dying husband, Barry (Matthew Pilieci), who may or may not be God.
It's certainly as ambitious a show as anything else the Amoralists have done, but something seems off. The jokes are more scatological and provocative than usual, especially the slurs that Johnny and Barry pronounce with such amused gusto, and the characters are heartlessly manic. We can be impressed by their endless energy, but it's hard to feel sorry for them. Likewise, it's not hard to be entertained by the bickering--especially the chest-thumping variety that Apps excels at--but it's difficult to believe that it's warranted. There's a lack of a sense of genuine history: they argue because that's what the script tells them to do, and the script tells them to do it because their elevated passions are, by nature, hysterical. And Amerissiah is sort of aware of this, too: after all, the play ends with a mysterious something suddenly happening, and the reason is "Just because." Thankfully, there's at least a method to the madness: the ending is fairly explicable (albeit highly implausible), and Ahonen's direction shades the mood with a very clear and distinct red.
What else? It's a pleasure to see Amoralist co-founders Kautz and Pilieci playing very different roles from their last show (the former goes from an MMA fighter to a spineless lawyer, the latter goes from a well-hung mailman to a cancer-stricken invalid). And though Lemp and Lawson are somewhat reprising roles from previous shows, they do it so well that nobody's complaining. Al Schatz has built another reliable set for the company: from the mood-setting giant stuffed moose head to the Ocean Blue walls and flower-lined window, it's got a lived-in feel that establishes the comic exaggerations of the family from the very first minute. The only downside to all these regulars is that they've built up a high standard for the Amoralists, a bar that Amerissiah doesn't quite reach. Still, there's no other company making kitchen-sink dramas like these, no other company as appropriately described as "insanilarious" as this one. And if the very low median age at Friday night's performance is any indication, Amerissiah may continue to convert audience members to the Amoralist way.