Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Amy Surprises Us; The Orphans, Less So

Playwright Lindsey Ferrentino states in the program that she was inspired to write this story, in part, by her own Aunt, who was Downs syndrome. As I reviewer, I have to point out that my Aunt also had Downs syndrome, and was born only a decade or so before the characters here. I don’t know if that effects my review, but I know that it effected my response, and making Amy and the Orphans very relatable for me. It isn’t necessary, at all, to be familiar with an individual to invest in this play – I just want to give readers full knowledge that my review may be skewed.
Amy and the Orphans is not well served by the poster for the show. It is not a happy go lucky three-person road show full of pluck and sappy sentiments. Instead it is a tough but humorous story of the response of children to their parents’ death.  Mark Blum and an almost unrecognizable Debra Monk are Jacob and Maggie, adult siblings traveling back to Montauk for their father’s service. They meet at La Guardia airport in order to drive to the pick up their Downs syndrome sister, Amy, for the service.
Debra Monk. Jamie Brewer and Mark Bloom
From the first moment, the tensions are thick and the jokes are a little too numerous. 
After her adult sons have moved out and her husband has divorced her, Maggie is tough and unyielding. She is still made at Jacob for his actions at their mother’s service. Jacob has gone full on Californian Christian, forsaking his religion, heritage and gluten, not necessarily in that order. Before being able to “get on the road” with an almost religious fervor, the duo must stop at an institution and pick up Amy, their Downs syndrome sister. Both and moved out of the area and rarely see their sister anymore. There is an unspoken dread at the prospect.
Amy, in an excellent performance by Jamie Brewer, proves to be more independent and headstrong than they remember. And Amy comes with a care-giver that mandated by the state and loved by Amy, Kathy (Vanessa Aspillaga in a wickedly funny role). Kathy bows to neither sibling in her understanding or love of Amy. The siblings project their own insecurities on Kathy and respond to them.
The play moves between the airport, the institution, the road and their father’s house with ease. In between are moments at the service and flashbacks to a couple in therapy we only understand later are the parents in their youth.
Jacob and Maggie, like their parents before them, struggle with what they owe to their sister. How much are they willing to upend their lives to do the right thing, and what is the right thing? The undercurrent, which rises up quickly, is that Amy is not party to these decisions. Amy, however, has ideas of her own.
Ms. Ferrentino has crafted a serious and funny piece about our expectations with regards to our family. She and Director Scott Ellis have crafted a show with Jamie Brewer that doesn’t seem forced, stereotypical or artificially positive. Ms. Brewer is in command of her character bringing tartness normally and a sweetness in a flashback that underscores how far she has had to grow.
I loved Amy and the Orphans, as a complete show. It was not a performance piece that allows a Downs syndrome actor to shine, which I feared it might be. Jacob and Maggie don’t travel the expected (and trite) path that they learn some life lesson from their disabled sister. Instead they have to confront their own expectations of each other and their parents to move on.

Amy And The Orphans | Playwright: Lindsey Ferrentino | Director: Scott Ellis | Cast: Jamie Brewer, Debra Monk, Mark Blum, Vanessa Aspillaga, Diane Davis, Josh McDermitt