Lindsey Ferrentino is most interested in telling stories about underrepresented people. “Especially women,” says the playwright. “Female stories that you may not see or even think about. Women caught in the gap in society.” Her breakout work, Ugly Lies the Bone, was about a veteran and burn survivor and played a sold-out, extended run at Roundabout Theatre Company, which then commissioned her to write another piece. Ferrentino already knew what she was going to write. This time, she wanted to put a woman with Down syndrome in the spotlight.
Amy and the Orphans, now having its world premiere at Roundabout’s Off-Broadway Laura Pels Theatre, is a family drama about three siblings who reunite for a road trip in the wake of their father’s death. One of them, Amy, has Down syndrome, and is played by American Horror Story star Jamie Brewer. The role’s understudy is Edward Barbanell, and for the performances when he steps into the show, the play is titled Andy and the Orphans.
The character of Amy, strong-willed and movie-obsessed, is inspired by Ferrentino’s own aunt, Amy Jacobs. The real Amy died in 2014, and a note in the script reads that she is “both missed for who she was and for who she could have been.” When she was born in 1964, Ferrentino’s grandparents were advised not to take her home, placing her instead in state-funded institutions and a string of problematic foster homes. This was part of a “culture of hiding people that are different,” says the playwright. “My aunt was not of a high-functioning level, not because of Down syndrome, but because she was abused her whole life.”
Her hope is that the show will spark important and necessary conversations about what kinds of opportunities society affords people with different abilities and how this can be improved. The production itself, directed by eight-time Tony nominee Scott Ellis, is a testament to the largely untapped talent of actors with Down syndrome.
“A play is the best way that I know to start a conversation and get inside the humanity of something,” says Ferrentino. Her plays not only introduce us to people on the margins, they implore us to connect and empathize with them, to open our eyes to “the women in society that we’re not seeing.” Even when they’re so close to home.