Monday, April 11, 2011

Heads Up

Anna Stromberg, standing, Mara Lileas, Sarah Roy and Jordan Tisdale.

The photo above could very easily give you the wrong impression about Bring Us the Head of Your Daughter, the latest provocative production from The Amoralists. Based on the visual, I would have pegged the show as a slight, playful campfest, and it's anything but. The bracing anarchist spirit that this East Village theater company has built its reputation on is very much alive.

At times author and director Derek Ahonen's reminds me of the work of a young Adam Rapp. Both have a knack for putting their characters into emotionally harrowing and brutally absurd situations. But Ahonen shows more refinement in the way he explores the destructional codependency of a lesbian couple and their 18-year-old daughter, who's wanted for murder and cannibalism.

Some animals eat their offspring, but in Daughter it's the reverse—metaphorically speaking, at least. Garance (Sarah Roy), who makes a late-inning entrance, has been accused of killing mothers, as her own two fall apart at home. Jackie (Anna Stromberg), the biological mother, is an alcoholic whose moods shift suddenly and violently from raging fury to weeping apology. She's perfectly paired with her wife, relationship junkie Contessa Springs (Mara Lileas). That Contessa never gets out of her pajamas during the three-day period over which the play is set speaks volumes about her. So does the understanding she bestows on her half-brother, Dexter (Jordan Tisdale), who raped her when she was a teenager and now comes face to face with her for the first time since then.

Ahonen couldn't care less about political correctness as he explores the ways we indulge children, forgive those close to us too easily, or condemn them too harshly. Garance spews venom at Contessa but worships Jackie, and in the physical and emotional melee that ensues, all four characters try passive-aggressively and aggressive-aggressively to negotiate a settlement that they can live with, even if it's probably not the best choice for any of them. Early news releases listed Daughter's running time at 95 minutes, but it's actually closer to 110 minutes, with no intermission. Even with spells of comic relief, it's hard to watch so much destruction for so long, but it's also hard to look away from.