The last Amoralists show I saw, Happy in the Poorhouse, was so shrill that I avenged myself by writing the review in all caps. Therefore, I had expectations lower than the Marianas Trench for Rantoul and Die, another of the group’s forays into filthy couch comedy (as opposed to kitchen-sink drama). At first glance, the anti-aesthetic seemed identical: Designer Alfred Schatz’s scummy living room merely switched Coney Island yuckiness for the disrepair of Rantoul, Illinois.
Comparably high-pitched marital dysfunction ensues in Rantoul, but Poorhouse encouraged audiences to laugh down their lorgnettes at lower-class people with low class. In contrast, playwright Mark Roberts, reminiscent of Nicky Silver, creates indigent and intelligent characters who are ridiculous and human, repulsive and sympathetic.
Gary (Matthew Pilieci), a motormouth who mixes grit with Eastern philosophy, has come to console his “tenderhearted” friend, Rallis (Derek Ahonen), as Rallis divorces, but Gary has ulterior motives. Rallis’s wife, Debbie (Sarah Lemp), complains pitilessly about the mentally disabled kids who visit the Dairy Queen she assistant-manages, but by the second act, she has a significant change of heart. Her manager, Callie (Vanessa Vaché), is a pious, compassionate cat lady with a disturbing secret. Similarly, the production’s strengths valiantly battle its flaws: The robust cast—save Ahonen—nearly absolves the sins of director Jay Stull. Roberts’s writing improves the story; his characters energize the play’s flabby structure. And though Vaché’s character has almost nothing to do with the plot, her deadpan portrayal of Callie elevates the whole production.