Forward Theater is known for shows that not only excite audiences but explore the extent of the human condition.
In the past, the troupe has focused on historical, cultural and psychological topics that leave ticket holders questioning their own lives and how they live them. This year, they dazzle us again with Jordan Harrison’s “The Amateurs.”
Originally performed at the Vineyard Theatre in 2018, the play focuses on an acting troupe of imperfect Christians trying to find faith in God, and moreover, the Bible stories they perform.
But, the traumatic circumstances of the bubonic plague challenge them. Facing the epidemic and other issues of the 14th century, we mostly watch the group practice their performance with significant trouble finishing “The Great Flood” scene.
Troupe member, Hollis, begins to question her role as Noah’s wife to willingly follow him, and thus, God, onto the ark. After the flood, the Bible says that God promised to never wipe out the human race, but she and the rest of the troupe struggle with this concept in the face of the bubonic plague.
Forward Theater utilizes minimal props and scenery to still clearly drive the plot and time period. They built a single wooden wagon where most of the action takes place, but they also take advantage of the Playhouse’s detachable floorboards to reveal new scenery, like coals for a fire and a stream with tall grass. Almost all of their additional pieces are used to depict the 14th century, except for one foldable chair in Act II.
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At the start, we are transported into the future — or 2018 — and greeted with a monologue from Harrison as himself about the AIDS epidemic. And just like that, the play takes on a whole new meaning — it’s not just about the bubonic plague, it’s about all plagues and how humans deal with them.
He reveals that the biblical performance of 14th century troupe was one of the first times a character recognized themself as an individual.
Individualism was bred in the time where people, specifically actors, were keenly aware of the shortness of time. With the trials and traumas of disease, troupes like that of “The Amateurs” began to question their reality and make decisions for themselves.
This eventually developed into the Renaissance and other evolutions of artistic expression. And this occurred all because a crisis made people question their reality.
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In other words, fictional Hollis of the black death era is asking the same questions as us in the coronavirus pandemic. In summary, who are we, and why are we here?
Crises cause humans to question their faith and presumptions, and sometimes, redefine themselves. It may be a stretch to say crisis is a conduit for self-definition, but based on Harrison’s depiction of the black death and the AIDS epidemic, followed by our own experience with COVID-19, we see clear examples of this ringing true.
And thanks to Forward Theater, we feel a little less alone in our search for meaning.
“The Amateurs” will continue at the Overture’s Playhouse until their last show on Nov. 21. If you are interested, please go to Forward Theater’s website for tickets and other information.