“The Cheaters Club” at the Abrons Art Center (Closed September 12, 2013)

September 3, 2013 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Written and Directed by Derek Ahonen
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

At the beginning of the second act of Derek Ahonen’s “Cheaters Club,” Susan, Pat, Charlie, and Linda storm Savannah’s Chaney Inn looking for their cheating spouses. After the first act, the audience re-enters the Abrons Art Center feeling equally bamboozled by their hosts The Amoralists. This well-intentioned (and hastily concocted) mélange of Southern Gothic, magic realism, SNL comedy, and Seth MacFarlane-esque humor quickly veers from the co-founders’ goal of producing theatre dedicated to “the American condition, plunging the depths of the social, political, spiritual, and sexual characteristics of human nature.” Although one does not expect Harper Lee, Carson McCullers, or Tennessee Williams fare, one does expect the highest standards of writing and acting normally proffered by The Amoralists.

The conflation of traditions – Tommy, Jimmy, Cathy, and Vonn’s annual “cheaters club” outing and the “Geist Ubernachtung” – is ripe with potential and should easily provide a platform for exploring important social issues and manifesting the cultural character of not only the American South but also the cultural core of America (think Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”). Unfortunately, “The Cheaters Club” is so determined to create conflicts that spin off complicated and converging plots, that any important thematic consequences become muddled and lack significant challenge to all things status quo.

The characters in the play are not well developed and this makes it difficult to provide interesting and engaging conflicts. The set is over-wrought and indulgent and perhaps the only truly amoral element in the production: there is no need to provide translucent walls to the guest rooms, for example and having a playable piano on the set does not substitute for more workable options in the remainder of the set. For The Amoralists this is just too much of a too much set.

The audience leaves “The Cheaters Club” scratching its collective head rather than exploring the underbelly of its cheating mind, psyche, and spirit. If only the audience had more of what Lana (Kelly Swindall) delivers to the spouses during the investigation of the cast away cheaters: “Time and space don’t operate by your man-made definitions. All is one. One is all. Forever is never and never is more. You are all so blind with your cozy sense of comfort.” There is simply not enough discomfit in Mr. Ahohen’s “Cheaters Club.” Despite this, it is certain The Amoralists will regroup and rebound with a new season of distinguished theatre.