Playwright Lindsey Ferrentino was inspired to write this piece by questions surrounding her Aunt Amy, born with Down Syndrome “during a time when medical professionals told my grandparents they had just given birth to a ‘Mongolian idiot’ who would never learn to read or write…” Like the character in her play, Amy was put into a state-funded institution where she surpassed presumptions, but was only visited by family on holidays and vacations. Ferrentino insisted than an actor with Down Syndrome play the role.
Jacob (Mark Blum) and Maggie (Debra Monk) have flown respectively from California and Chicago to bury their father on Staten Island. They bicker with some warmth, but it’s clear the two are not close. The familiar actors are low key, natural, and amusing; skilled with sympathetic banter and timing.
Debra Monk, Jamie Brewer, Mark Blum
On the way, the siblings pick up younger sister Amy (Jamie Brewer of American Horror Story – handily in command ) who’s spent her life in a succession of state institutions. The two still think of her as a child and show up with balloons. How will they break the news? How does one explain death to a challenged mind?
As their father legally turned over primary care – surprise! – Amy’s principal attendant must, they’re told, accompany her. So much for private family bonding. Fortunately, Kathy (a credible Vanessa Aspillaga) is warm, attentive, and intimately knows the young woman whom her brother and sister find a stranger. Surprise?! Kathy’s also loud, talkative, dutifully intrusive, and a bit too much of a cliché.
Amy is sufficiently functional to hold down a job at a local movie theater (chauffeured by the institution van) and acquire a boyfriend oddly named Nick Nolte. Though on the spectrum, she’s nowhere near as immature or oblivious as her relatives concluded. Neither, it seems, has spoken directly with her for years.
John McDermitt and Jamie Brewer
Growing up, every visit from the family entailed going to the movies – clearly a way to avoid talking. The only consistent thing in Amy’s life has been film. She peppers conversation with a remarkable array of applicable quotes and won’t be parted from a fully loaded laptop with headphones.
The above plays out in tandem with backstory scenes featuring two young people who turn out to be Maggie and Jake’s parents. Sarah (Diane Davis) is falling apart under the pressures of caring for a baby who’s diagnosed as hopeless, in addition to two other children and husband Bobby (Josh McDermitt).
It turns out that Amy’s real history is a far cry from the one Maggie and Jake imagined. The startling truth radically affects both feelings about their parents and their own consciences. Perspective adjusts with a deafening screech. Now what?
(Amy’s double entendre curtain speech of movie quotes cleverly gives her the last word – Guess that film!)
“…I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
But no more.
I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!!
I am serious.
Don’t call me Shirley.
Director Scott Ellis does a good, if not especially original job.
The writing is not as compelling as the subject matter.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Vanessa Aspillaga, Jamie Brewer, Debra Monk, Mark Blum
Roundabout Theatre Company presents
Amy and the Orphans by Lindsey Ferrentino
Directed by Scott Ellis
Laura Pels Theatre
111 West 46th Street
Through April 22, 2018