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Theater review by Adam Feldman
Jordan Harrison has a lot of explaining to do in The Amateurs, or at least he seems to think so. At first, his ambitious but inchoate new play follows the travails of a 14th-century English theater troupe as—in the face of poverty, persecution and the plague—it rehearses a pageant based on the Biblical story of Noah. But at the halfway mark, Harrison turns the action inside out with a metatheatrical flourish involving two of the actors, Michael Cyril Creighton and Quincy Tyler Bernstine (both very good). During this shift, Harrison directly lays out his thought process, using research and illustrations and throwing that old “show, don’t tell” saw out the window of his demolished fourth wall.
To some extent, this section of dramatis interruptus is effective. It has a texture of real life that the medieval sections do not, and it mirrors, in that way, the emergence of personhood that the rest of the show is meant to depict. (Harrison’s thesis is that the suffering of the plague helped spur the formation of individualism.) But its interest is mainly formal; the emotional content doesn’t bleed into the rest of the production when the focus returns to the traveling players. For all its skill, the play rarely seems either more or less than self-conscious.
Vineyard Theatre (Off Broadway). By Jordan Harrison. Directed by Oliver Butler. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.