In the new play “Amy and the Orphans,” disability, dysfunction, and delusion are the contentious components that drive an anomalous family unit to a place they were not expecting to visit called reality. Presented by Roundabout Theater Company at The Laura Pels Theatre, the play is carefully and skillfully penned by Lindsey Ferrentino, is inspired by her own family members, and explores the journey of three adult siblings, one of whom has Down Syndrome, as they reunite in the wake of their father’s death. The situation unearths deep-seated secrets, provokes frustration, challenges the definition of family, and observes the choices that occur when seeking survival, a sanctuary of reassurance or unconditional love. It is a brave undertaking which reveals the fragile, yet selfish and broken elements of the human condition. Under the astute tutelage of director Scott Ellis, the excellent cast delivers remarkable performances.
Formulated like a split screen that is decades apart, there are two plays in which one is a prelude to the present main attraction. No need to mention a sort of spoiler alert. The present action plays out as siblings Maggie (an irrefutable neurotic Debra Monk) and Jacob (a compulsive eccentric Mark Blum) retrieve sister Amy (the inspiring Jamie Brewer) who has Down Syndrome, from her group home to inform her of their father’s recent demise and mother’s death a year ago, as they begin a journey to their childhood home on Long Island to plan the funeral. They are joined on the road trip by health care worker Kathy (the big-hearted, blunt and opinionated Vanessa Aspillaga), who informs them that she is now Amy’s legal guardian since their father signed her care over to the state. It is a wildly humorous ride with enough bumps and sudden sharp turns to keep the trip more than interesting and entertaining.
The characters may seem too broad or stereotypical, but this is merely the armor they wear to protect from the slings and arrows of the truth. Amy speaks like a pundit, with recycled dialogue from her favorite films, which she has most likely seen several times since she has now been promoted to manager of the local movie theater. Jacob, born into a Jewish family is now a born again Christian and juicer. Maggie mistakes a skittle fallen into her bra, for a lump in her breast causing a cancer scare. There is no deliberation of who might be dysfunctional and needing attention.
So after finally arriving at reality, these characters are faced with the consequences of abandonment, whom they left behind, whom they choose to love and how it affects their relationships. Perhaps we learn the disabled are fully functional and the dysfunctional are truly disabled. It is not a perfectly scripted play but is able to use humor to provide a powerful and potent message. Ms. Brewer rises to deliver an exceptional performance full of fierce bravery, standing tall to deliver an unwavering curtain closing speech comprised of familiar movie lines that cuts to the emotional core. It is a moment that is so honest the words spoken take on a completely new meaning that resonate heartbreaking hope.
AMY AND THE ORPHANS
The cast includes Vanessa Aspillaga, Mark Blum, Jamie Brewer, Diane Davis, Josh McDermitt, and Debra Monk.
The creative team includes Rachel Hauck (Scenic Design), Alejo Vietti (Costume Design), Kenneth Posner (Lighting Design) and John Gromada (Sound and Original Compositions). Production photos by Joan Marcus.
“Amy and the Orphans” runs at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 West 46th Street) through Sunday April 22, 2018 on the following schedule: Tuesday through Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. with Wednesday, Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. Tickets and further information, including performance times, are available online at www.roundabouttheatre.org. Run time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Vanessa Aspillaga, Jamie Brewer, Debra Monk, and Mark Blum in “Amy and the Orphans.” Credit: Joan Marcus.