Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: Amerissiah

Selene Beretta, William Apps IV, Adam Fujita, Dierdre Brennan and Nancy Clarkson in Amerissiah.

Dysfunction with a Ray of Sunshine

By Lauren Yarger
Yet another dysfunctional family has hit the boards of a New York theater, but with this play, amidst the yelling and backbiting, there’s hope that people can change and that an “I’m sorry” might actually mean something.

The show is Derek Ahonen’s Amerissiah, presented by The Amoralists theater company at the Gene Frankel Theatre in New York through Dec, 7.

Barry Ricewater (Adam Fujita) is dying of cancer and has become convinced that he is God who must die to save America. Creepy in his disease-ravaged appearance (think Edward Scissorhands) and screaming nonsensically at an invisible “Joey,” he gets around with help of a padded mop, his free spirited older wife Margi (Dierdre Brennan) and his family.

The clan meets at the Bronx boyhood home of the Ricewaters, where Barry was born on the living room floor, and where he wants to die (set design by Matthew Pilieci and Alfred Schatz). There’s his brother, Ricky (William Apps IV), who’s stopped using drugs and is trying to help his socially awkward and nervous girlfriend Lonnie (Selene Beretta in a nice turn) do the same. His sister Holly is angry at the world, especially at Margi for planting the “messiah” garbage in her brother’s head and at her ex Bernie (Matthew Pilieci) who won’t let her see her daughter. Their father, Johnny (George Walsh), is in denial about his son’s illness as well the fact that he and Holly might lose the family used-car empire and serve jail time for embezzlement and fraud.

“In my eyes, you’re forgiven,” the Amerissiah tells an unrepentant Holly, who never seems to stop yelling at everyone and who drinks to take off the edge.

Fighting ensues about whether Margi, whose other husbands died mysteriously, convinced Barry not to seek treatment for the cancer because she’s after his money. Past and present hurts caused by the family members and disagreement about whether to allow Barry to continue to think he’s God complete the dysfunction fest. In an attempt to force the truth, Holly challenges Barry’s claims and tells him that if he is God, he should have stopped the holocaust to which the Amerissiah replies that he did.

“Is it still going on?” he asks.
“No,” Holly replies.

It’s this kind of humor and direction from Ahonen which allow each of the characters to be individuals while functioning as a strong ensemble (costumes by Ricky Lang also accomplish this). And there just might be something to Barry’s claims after all, when Terry and Carrie Murphy (James Kautz and Jennifer Fouche) arrive, led to the Amerissiah by a voice in Carrie’s head. Terry (in a very funny performance from Kautz) wants to channel his wife’s gift to get her a spread in People magazine, or even better, to give him six numbers to win the lottery.

Where Amerissiah differs from most of the family dysfunctional plots out there is that some healing takes place. Johnny finally comes to terms with Barry’s imminent death and the fact that he beat his son Ricky as a boy. His “I’m sorry,” seems to be the catalyst for a rebuilding of that relationship. Bernie and Holly have a heart-to-heart. She explains that she has sabotaged herself and their relationship because she craves anything that brings pleasure to her senses. Bernie, who appears to have a strong Christian faith, tells her that when you can’t see, smell or touch, the only thing left is the people who love you and we sense that the couple will reconcile if lawyer Bernie can keep Holly out of jail.

There’s even a strange miracle with a lot of evening sunlight (thanks to lighting director Jeremy Pape) that just might save them all.
For tickets, go to

Christians might also want to know:
• Language
• God’s name taken in vain
• Use of drugs/alcohol depicted
• The AMORALISTS are a theatre company that produces work of no moral judgment, collaborating exclusively with American playwrights whose works are not concerned with the principals of right or wrong, good or bad, but rather full or empty.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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