By Derek Ahonen; Directed by James Kautz
Produced by The Amoralists
Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 8.9.14
Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street
by Zak Risinger on 7.28.14
The Qualification of Douglas Evans.
BOTTOM LINE: A look into the tortured psyche of a struggling playwright as he navigates the creative process and varied women in his life.
The Amoralists, a courageous young group of talented theatre artists who are producing work that is unapologetic and not afraid to explore the underbelly of the human experience, have long been one of my favorite theatre companies. So, needless to say, I was pumped when I heard this exciting company was set to produce a new presentation of two plays in repertory that address man's vicious cycles. The first part was the trippy Enter at Forest Lawn, and the second part of this repertory experience known as "The Gyre" is the world premiere of Derek Ahonen’s The Qualification of Douglas Evans, which follows the life of playwright Douglas Evans and his pursuit of acceptance in a warped world of women, family and art. From his trials as a wide-eyed teenager to his descent into the ills of artistic success, it is a coming-of-age tale of rock bottoms, bright skies and the will to rise above one’s inner animal.
Ahonen does double duty as playwright and lead actor in this mildly self indulgent, yet still wildly entertaining tale about a struggling artist who just can't seem to quite get his shit together. He is surrounded by a bevy of talented and attractive women who each try to instill a glimmer of hope and confidence in his rapidly declining life consumed by alcohol and unresolved parental issues. While the story is nothing new, there is something about this production that leaves the audience somehow pulling for this hapless and helpless hero.
The cast of characters are rounded out by a great ensemble of actors playing all the colorful characters in Douglas's life. Most notably is Mandy Nicole Moore who takes a character who, in less capable hands, could have easily turned into a whiny and annoying twit but instead Moore transforms Kimmy into a quirky, lovable, and fragile woman who loves Douglas despite his many flaws. Our protagonist doesn't fully appreciate her or the other women who come in and out of his life, choosing, instead, to focus on his failures and shortcomings. He is an overgrown man child still seeking approval from his parents, played with great ease by Barbara Weetman and Penny Bittone. Weetman is particularly adept at flushing out many unexpected layers as Douglas's mother.
Let's make it clear, at least I hope this is the case, that The Qualification of Douglas Evans is not autobiographical. As with all art, artists draw inspiration from their lives and no doubt Ahohen peppered the script with moments from his own past as a struggling actor/playwright; however, he has already had a much more prolific career than his put upon Douglas Evans, having written several other scripts performed by The Amoralists that garnered huge buzz and critical acclaim. My personal favorite being the bold and provocative Pied Pipiers of the Lower East Side that, in a way, put The Amoralists on the map in the world of New York Theatre.
The star of that production, James Kautz, makes his directorial debut with The Qualification of Douglas Evans. Kautz does a fine job maneuvering the ins and outs of this surreal exploration of the pleasures and pains of addiction with few missteps and many, many high notes. His choices are clear and clean and, minus a few random dance sequences, he knocked it out of the park on his first at bat helming a full production on his own. I look forward to what he might do in the future but also hope that he will continue acting with the same fearlessness and gusto that audiences have come to know and expect as evident in his wonderful performance in Take Me Back which was performed at Walkerspace earlier this year.
While both of the plays presented in repertory to form The Gyre are not perfect by any means, they both definitely have their merits. The two works compliment each other nicely. The Qualification of Douglas Evans might be slightly more accessible to most audiences than Enter at Forest Lawn. Douglas Evans addresses the visible demise of an artist while Forest Lawn abstractly attacks the crumbling of the mind. Both plays are funny, sad, weird, and sometimes hard to understand, but hey, so is life. If art is supposed to put a window up to the soul, The Amoralists do just that with these two promising new plays.
(The Qualification of Douglas Evans plays in repertory with Enter at Forest Lawn at Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street, through August 9, 2014. Performance schedule varies and can be found at theamoralists.com.
Tickets are $40, and $20 for students, and can be purchased at theamoralists.com.)