“Rantoul and Die” at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Closed July 20, 2013)

By Mark Roberts
Directed by Jay Stull
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza,
Theatre Reviews Limited

The new play “Rantoul and Die” is playwright Mark Roberts’ debut with the Amoralists and one can only hope that this outstanding collaboration is only the beginning of a long relationship. This latest production now playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre strikes a perfect chord in the harmony between script and actor while still completely supporting the theatre company’s mission statement. The intimacy of the studio space allows the audience to eavesdrop on the situation with such intense involvement that betimes reality is morphed to surrealism. The rapid fire dialogue bites, cuts and stings, bleeding profusely with feeling and emotion, while infecting the audience member with unavoidable laughter to ease the pain. It is not a question whether the audience wants to connect but rather how involved they become. It sounds like the play is the thing, but wait.

The cast takes this material, absorbs the dialogue, and creates characters that sweat emotion and turmoil from every pore, until they are left exhausted from exposure. Matthew Pilieci as the sly, sneaky Gary exudes a kinetic energy at every turn. Derek Ahonen is able to coerce endless sympathy while aptly inhabiting a worthless Rallis. Sarah Lemp develops a strong warrior in Debbie only to be defeated in battle when her thick armor is pierced by undeniable guilt. Vanessa Vaché serves Callie with a calm and innocent exterior like a dormant volcano and when it erupts she does not explode but lets her pain flow out like hot molten lava, only to cool down and become solid like a rock. This ensemble understands what it is to be human and embraces the flaws that ignite their souls and sets their emotions on fire. They are simply brilliant.

Like the characters on stage, the set by Alfred Schatz is beaten up and deteriorating but still standing and providing shelter and comfort. Lighting by Evan Roby is honest and exposes all in clear real light where nothing can hide in the shadows. The deft direction of Jay Stull exhibits excellent timing and pacing. Do not waste any time finding a ticket to this remarkable Amoralist production. You will not be disappointed.