World Premiere of ‘Ass’ at Pioneer Theater Company is a Witty Play on Family Dynamics


Laura J. Hall and T. Ryder Smith in the World Premiere of “Ass” at Pioneer Theatre Company (Courtesy PTC)

By Makena Reynolds, Arts Writer


Ass” had its world premiere at Pioneer Theatre Company this past weekend. A witty, and touching play about family dynamics, estranged relationships, and of course, ass. Written by Ellen Simon, Neil Simon’s daughter, and directed by Pioneer’s artistic director Karen Azenberg, the play was the perfect blend of sentimentality and sarcasm. 

What is “Ass”?

The play follows Will (Ben Cherry) who comes home to visit his father, Jule (T. Ryder Smith) and his ninth and younger wife, Tory (Laura J. Hall). Jule is a famous artist, best known for his sculpting pieces that have been featured in the MOMA, and his current project pertains to a slab of alabaster that is destined to be carved into the bottom half of a woman.

As if living up to the expectations of his famous father wasn’t enough, it is quickly revealed through discussion with his own wife, Ana (Elizabeth Ramos), that an investment that he has made did not have the success rate that he intended which has left him broke.

Will hopes to ask his father for a loan, however, Jule is spending his time in dialysis treatment due to kidney failure. Will recognizes that to ask his father for twenty-thousand dollars while he is sick at the hospital “would kind of make him an ass.” It just so happens that Jule needs something from his son, that he is more than happy to pay for — his kidney. 

The Heart of “Ass”

The connection between Jule and his dialysis nurse, Ray (Vince McGill) speaks volumes especially during a time when hospital workers are carrying the burden of a global pandemic. He is a strong, famous, and successful man with a harsh exterior, who has never asked anything of anyone.

As Ray states, a nurse’s job is to tend to all of the people and not play favorites and, in doing that, Jule finally feels seen. Jule even tells his son that he has acted like a “sycophant” and that he is just as guilty in the distance between the father and son.

This relationship between Ray and Jule is the heart of the show and, without Ray, there is no way that Jule would have ever been able to mend his relationship with his son. 

Why the Title?

So why the title “Ass”? In a playwright’s note, Simon teases the viewer with various reasons she could have potentially chosen the absurd title. Personally, I feel as if “Ass” speaks to the vulnerability we all carry within us, and the comfortability we have in showing it. It’s funny, yet it can also be sensual.

Depending on the self-security of the person, it may be something that is easy to flaunt, while for others it is connected to the very sacred act of undressing. A character such as Tory is quite literally willing to bare her naked backside for the sake of a portrait, just as she has been open and vulnerable towards her husband. Whereas Jule, who struggles to chisel the ass in the alabaster, mirrors the struggle to connect with his son and family members.

It’s a beautiful play, one that takes the absurdity of title and scenario in stride as it delivers a heart-felt tale. 


“Ass” runs at Pioneer Theater Company through Nov. 16. Tickets can be purchased here.


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