Contessa’s brother Dexel suddenly reappears after an absence of twenty-one years. “I’m SO Sorry,” he says with pained sincerity – for raping and impregnating her at their last adolescent encounter. A noise is heard from the bathroom, where Contessa’s wife, Jackie, has been locked up, prompting Dexel’s next line: “Does Jackie have a big pussy?” The Amoralists' newest work, now playing at PS 122, provides a curious journey. It jolts back and forth from melodrama to farce, from high-brow political nuance to low racist jokes. Bring Us the Head of Your Daughter keeps you repeatedly asking yourself the same question – Is this for real? Whether they are or not, The Amoralists have put together a fine, stimulating evening of theater.
It begins with a sentimental mulatto, Contessa, (Mara Lileas) crying in an entirely naturalistic apartment set to the tune of an old Afro-American blues song. “My hair is wooly,” wails Nina Simone, weep weep weep goes Contessa. Both are cut off by a message on the answering machine, a stranger threatening to kill the “lesbian whores.” Alarm bells go off – self-important issue play, yikes! Shortly after, however, Jackie enters, and the tone of the play is sharply reconstructed. She’s drunk, and keeps yelling things about their daughter, the cannibal. Anna Stromberg is hysterical as Jackie, both in the funny sense and the loud sense, and the story line seems to follow her lead toward the outrageous.
But it isn’t until the next “dramatic” interlude between Contessa and (half) brother Dexel, described above, that a mock drama begins to take form. Perhaps it is the continuous references to Streetcar - Contessa’s strong southern accent and her riff on whether “Polak” is a racial epithet, Jackie’s over-the-top alcoholism, the presence of rape and bizarre sibling relationships – that make the play seem like a comment on American drama more than anything else. Adding to that are writer/director Derek Ahonen’s bold strokes, juxtaposing cartoon-like clowniness with quiet attempts at naturalism.
The result is mixed. While eliciting stellar performances from his cast (Jordan Tisdale especially is a delight from the moment he enters the stage), Ahonen stumbles directorially at some key moments, straining to reach emotions this frenetic piece cannot sustain. But Ahonen and the cast do succeed in holding our attention for nearly two intermission-less hours. They also leave us brimming with thoughts, questions and memories of many funny moments. Here’s one good image: A plastered, weirdo-clown-faced Lesbian Jew mumbling “Leave the Nazis alone. They’ve suffered enough.”
Bring Us the Head is a play of substance (abuse?), that, while over-shooting at times, is not afraid to engage deeply with the moral, political and theatrical landscape of our time.