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Aug 17, 2007
V 35 Issue 33

 
 
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Cost of the
War in Iraq
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Inner life revealed
Inner life revealed
by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Prayer for My Enemy by Craig Lucas
directed by Bart Sherr
Intiman Theatre
through August 26


Sometimes, you say one thing while you're thinking another, or maybe you answer a question with just a sound, rather than blurt out your real feelings. Exploring that idea on stage means that, somehow, you have to convey two different states of being: the inner thought and the outer conversation. It's an interesting challenge. This is the challenge that Craig Lucas took on in writing Prayer for My Enemy, which had its world premiere last week.

People you meet on stage should be interesting enough so that you actually want to hear what they're thinking. So, Lucas' characters are multilayered, flawed, struggling and guarded. We hear them tell lies because we get to hear what the characters are thinking. Characters are alcoholic or bipolar, or just angry. Sometimes, they're very funny.

We start with two men bumping into each other and realizing they'd gone to school together. Hearing their inner feelings, we know that their relationship in school was an intense friendship with confusing emotional overtones. Through a kind of stop-action, in and out jerkiness, we hear about that friendship through the banality of their reuniting. Tad (James McMenamin) has grown up and stayed in town, not really finding equilibrium. Billy (Daniel Zaitchik) ditched his small town, but comes back to visit before leaving for Iraq.

Billy's family is having a going-away dinner and he invites Tad to come back home with him. The family is dysfunctional, with an alcoholic, Vietnam-vet father Austin (John Procaccino) who has created a legacy of abusive behavior. Austin's wife, Karen (Cynthia Lauren Tewes) is co-dependent or oblivious, by turns. Tad's sister, Marianne (Chelsey Rives), is bitter and sarcastic and deeply angry at her father.

Austin dominates his family, and never really connects with them. His abusive comments to his son, regarding Billy's possibly homosexuality, has caused Billy to join the military to somehow prove his manhood. Austin feels more connected to elephants than his family. John Procaccino's performance is consistent with a shell-shocked vet who has never gotten the psychological help he's needed.

Cynthia Lauren Tewes has just the right tone of "mom" in her voice, but the character isn't really fully developed, so she doesn't have a chance to show much range. Chelsey Rives as the daughter has lots of range and varied emotions. Her character goes through the most life-changes: giving birth to an autistic child, getting divorced, living with her parents. Rives' capacity to bring nuances to her emotions helps Marianne become a powerful presence.

James McMenamin and Daniel Zaitchik anchor the play with their relationship. They give strong performances bringing reality to their characters in this unreal construct. They master the difficulties of speech that is both exterior and interior. Lighting changes, in particular, designed by Stephen Strawbridge, give the best indication of whether someone is speaking inside himself or outside. The audience didn't have much trouble knowing which part of someone was speaking.

Throughout the play, there is one more character, not part of that family story. Kimberly King plays Dolores, who is taking care of her elderly mother, whom we don't see. Dolores doesn't seem to have any connection to the family, at all, until the end. But King plays her delicately and always makes us want to know more. She has other emotional dilemmas than elder care, such as whether she loves her husband or not, or where she should live. Dolores' character, however, doesn't have the two levels of communication that all the others do. Dolores tells us directly what she is thinking and feeling and doesn't have to step from one state of being to another.

The play delves into a range of topics while the characters reveal themselves. It's complex and doesn't present answers to things like why there is war, who the enemy is, and whether praying reaches a God or not. The main message seems to be that it is important to be civil, to treat people well, that life is short and we should try to have compassion for everyone - even our enemies.

This play is what theater is supposed to be: it challenges you to think, shows you things you might not have known, involves you, pulls you in. Lucas' script is not perfect and his philosophies might be ones you don't agree with, or you don't understand when you're done, but he pulls you in to examine it all. Theater shouldn't be a passive event like watching television. You should have the opportunity to walk out with your companion and discuss the various elements, wonder what else they mean, decide your own feelings. If you allow yourself, you'll be able to do all of that after coming to see Prayer for Your Enemy.

For more information, go to www.intiman.org or call (206) 269-1900. To comment on the review, write sgncritic@gmail.com.
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