Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Prayer For My Enemy (The SOB Review)

Prayer For My Enemy (The SOB Review) - Intiman Theatre, Seattle WA

** (out of ****)

It's no secret that the biggest world premiere to hit Seattle theatre in years is Young Frankenstein. However, barely a mile away, another world premiere production is currently playing, this time from critically-acclaimed playwright Craig Lucas.

I've been quite clear in this space how riveting I've found Lucas' previous works. His haunting Small Tragedy ranks as one of my favorite plays. Talk about a drama that shook me to my core.

So it was with great anticipation, perhaps too much, that I visited the Intiman -- Seattle's leading, Tony Award-winning regional theatre -- to discover Lucas' latest work, Prayer For My Enemy. Unfortunately, the production under Bartlett Sher's direction feels incomplete and as unfocused as each character's out-of-body psycho-babbling thought processing.

That's not to say that parts of the overly ambitious dual story lines aren't intriguing.

First, there's the tale of a young gay man named Billy, who's in denial about his sexuality. Billy is portrayed by an all-too strapping Daniel Zaitchik, who comes across more as the quintessential boy next door. Seems he's so tired of the taunts from his own alcoholic father Austin (a prickly John Procaccino) that he enlists in the military just to prove he's a real man.

Immediately before heading to Iraq, Billy has a chance encounter with his first love Tad (James McMenamin), who's since gone into a slightly delusional tailspin after divorcing his wife. Billy invites Tad to his bon voyage send-off where the latter becomes reacquainted with Billy's sister Marianne (Chelsey Rives).

While in Iraq, Billy suffers a serious head injury, but it doesn't cut nearly as deep as the discovery that Tad and Marianne are now having a baby, forcing the young soldier to rethink whether he can really be true to himself and Tad. Meanwhile, Tad's trying to fit into his new surroundings by ingratiating himself with Austin and his wife Karen (Cynthia Lauren Tewes -- yes, that Lauren Tewes).

Concurrently, there's the story of the frazzled middle-aged woman Delores (Kimberly King) who's practically come undone in determining how to care for her ailing mother. Delores regales with her own frustrated tales of living in the Big Apple. She's just plain miserable and alone. Even the staging of Delores' soliloquies underscore how bleak her life has become.

In anticipating a major payoff when the two very separate threads finally come together, they're not so much woven together as they are mismatched. The chance manner in which they're tied together is less than satisfying, unless the point is to show how unperfectly random life is.

In my humble estimation, that's quite atypical of Lucas' other work. What's riveted me most in his unique storytelling is how well he usually enables his strange twists to make sense. Here, it just seems like pure happenstance.

That's not to say that there aren't some sobering moments. It's particularly poignant that the most despicable character in the entire play -- Billy's father -- also turns out to be the surprising source for the show's title, a man who isn't afraid to get down on his knees to pray for America's enemies.

Of all the spare design elements, the one that struck me most was the arresting sound design provided by Stephen LeGrand, including the subtle beeping of the ATM machines where Billy and Tad first reunite.

Prayer For My Enemy certainly aspires to be thoughtful and thought-provoking, yet in its current state, it's strangely deficient. Whether it will be shored up before heading to Long Wharf Theatre next month remains to be seen.

Since I greatly admire Craig Lucas, I'll say a little prayer.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.

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At 09 July, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Post Script (7/8/08): The show has been announced for Off-Broadway's Playwrights Horizons with a terrific cast including: Victoria Clark, Jonathan Groff, Cassie Beck and Skipp Sudduth. Bartlett Sher will once again direct.


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