Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Prayer for My Enemy


By Craig Lucas. Dir. Bartlett Sher. Playwrights Horizons. (CLOSED)

Don't be fooled by the middling grade; Craig Lucas' new American family drama, which takes on homophobia, alcoholism, road rage, and the Veitnam and Iraq wars, receives not lukewarm mixed reviews but a jostling crowd of opinionated, and widely differing, responses that end up averaging out in an uneasy middle. That may be only fitting: Champions think the play's complexity and polyphony speaks poignantly to the most pressing issues of the day; detractors less charitably see the interior monologues Lucas gives his characters as rambling, unconnected, and undramatic. Most praise the straight-play performances by two musical theater stars, Victoria Clark and Jonathan Groff, but critics are divided on whether director Bart Sher did brilliant, understated work or just checked out. A+
(Stan Richardson) What fascinates me most about Craig Lucas is that he has no gimmick, no tricks up his sleeve—he's not even aspiring to be one step ahead of his audience. In fact, he remains resolutely a few steps behind, examining what we—preoccupied with our own velocity—have overlooked, taken for granted, or dismissed...Go see Prayer For My Enemy because you will at times bark with laughter, at times be stunned to silence, and all the while find yourself hanging on every eerily familiar word uttered by these vivid characters, more captured than written.

Talkin' Broadway A
(Matthew Murray) Prayer for My Enemy is one of those plays that should only be examined whole - dissecting the individual pieces will only encourage your drowning in its stream of consciousness...What had started off scattered, almost confused, turns profound and reminds us that the formation and dissolution of relationships and friendships, births, deaths, and everything in between, all mark a moment in history that will never come again...The cast and Sher all understand what Lucas has made implicit: everything is important, because everything makes a contribution - in both life and theatre. It’s to the considerable credit of everyone involved in Prayer for My Enemy that it’s impossible to distinguish between the two.

Newsday A-
(Linda Winer) Few playwrights pull us down life's rabbit holes with the dark yet altogether engaging force of Craig Lucas...In "Prayer for My Enemy," the multilayered, deeply unsettling and beautifully conceived new work at Playwrights Horizons, the small-town serenity barely covers the separate abysses where all six characters are in their own free falls...Bartlett Sher...gets his quiet powerhouse of a cast to juggle cosmic questions with the casual absurdities of family life...Only the final few moments, a hymn, feel undeserved.

American Theatre Web A-
(Andy Propst) Lucas' various plots may sound like a lot for a 90-minute drama, but while "Enemy" may feel overstuffed, in director Bartlett Sher's taut staging that some of New York's finest actors, the play is never anything less than a captivating stew of ideas and emotions...On many levels, "Enemy" feels as if it might want to be expanded. The shorthand in which it has been penned seems too terse for such a rich mix of emotions and ideas.

Time Out NY B+
(David Cote) Prayer for My Enemy unfolds like a loose, Thornton Wilder–esque meditation on family and social ethics, with the Iraq War looming large in the form of gay soldier Billy (Jonathan Groff, making a solid nonmusical debut). Billy’s upstate New York clan is a Whitman’s Sampler of middle-class dysfunction...In between domestic scenes, Victoria Clark simmers brilliantly on the sidelines as Dolores, a high-strung New Yorker taking care of her dying mother, and whose life intersects fatally with the family. Bartlett Sher’s elegant production guides us sensitively through these lives of quiet desperation—well, mostly quiet.

CurtainUp B+
(Elyse Sommer) Clark brings sizzle to a play that at times is closer to a simmer...Mr. Lucas, like the two wars that have nurtured so many American tragedies, has not tied up his play like a cheery, neatly wrapped gift box. Life according to Lucas, whether in the city or suburbs, is too messy to be wrapped in tissue paper and neatly tied up with a ribbon.

Theatermania B+
(Dan Balcazo) Craig Lucas' thoughtful and engaging new play...may not satisfy all audiences. But for those who give themselves over to the style and message of the script, it contains plenty of rewards...The ensemble cast does a fine job under Sher's crisp direction...However, it is Clark's exquisite performance that leaves the most lasting impression -- and contributes greatly to the effectiveness of Lucas' drama.

New Yorker B+
(John Lahr) A game of hide-and-seek, in which the command of Lucas’s writing works as a kind of unspoken promise to the audience: in this series of opaque, impressionistic moments in one family’s turmoil, something will be found...He is trying to dramatize our psychic static, the perpetual, noodling back-and-forth between the conscious and the unconscious mind...If I got to choose, I’d want Victoria Clark on my team. At once delicate, alert, decent, and impish, she is an astute player, who makes an instant connection with the audience.

Hartford Courant B
(Malcolm Johnson) Set against a dark, romantic frieze of trees in the atmospheric set by John McDermott, who has also worked with Lucas and Sher at Intiman, "Prayer" unfolds as a strange tale of a love that dare not speak its name, even in the 21st century...The versatile "Prayer" a strong center which holds the play together and balances against the family scenes and Clark's ramblings as Dolores, who inherits a small fortune when her mother dies.

Village Voice B-
(Michael Feingold) Prayer for My Enemy often turns, like his best plays, enthralling, passionate, and articulate. But it also often feels contradictory and unclarified as it jumps almost nervously from topic to topic. What drives the evening, more than anything said or done onstage, seems to be Lucas's struggle to find the connections that give life meaning. That his methods visibly aren't working only makes the effort more grippingly painful. While hopelessly inchoate, the play also at times seems only a breath away from being a masterpiece.

Backstage B-
(David Sheward) With this loony bunch, Lucas is too obviously creating a microcosm of America. See how screwed up this country is, he metaphorically screams at us. Fortunately, Lucas has shuffled a joker in the pack--a character who is just as crazy as the family but in a different, subtler way. This is Dolores, played with a manic comic intensity by the heartbreaking Victoria Clark...I didn't quite buy the whole premise; the setup and playing out seemed too forced and theatrical. But director Bartlett Sher and his exemplary ensemble maintain a remarkably specific degree of verisimilitude.

The New York Times C+
(Ben Brantley) Provocative, confused and confusing...Scholars of this questing playwright’s work will find in it a significant and intriguing shift of tone. Average theatergoers, on the other hand, are unlikely to share the play’s spirit of forgiveness. For while “Prayer for My Enemy” dares to ask smart and hard questions about a homegrown violence that reaches from suburban backyards into the battlefields of Iraq, it often suffers from the same muddle-headedness that plagues its uneasy and uncertain characters. And though the production features several stirring and eloquent is ultimately too disconnected to move us as it means to...“Prayer for My Enemy” has more food for thought than a dozen average new American plays. The problem is that this production never assembles that food into anything approaching a digestible meal.

New York Post C+
(Frank Scheck) To say a play is too ambitious seems churlish, but "Prayer for My Enemy" fairly begs the criticism. This drama of family dysfunction deals with so many themes (principally the need for forgiveness) that it feels more overstuffed than revelatory. Add to that more interior monologues than have been seen onstage since Eugene O'Neill's "Strange Interlude," and you have one daunting evening...Under Sher's sensitive direction, the talented cast delivers flawless performances, and the play is obviously deeply felt. But "Prayer for My Enemy" is as messy as the lives of the characters it depicts.

New York C+
(Dan Kois) Alternates moments of high excitement with stretches of tedium...Lucas has his characters speak their innermost thoughts directly to the audience in the middle of scenes. It doesn’t quite work from a theatrical perspective – it’s confusing and saps the play of all subtext by making it plain old text – but at least it’s fun for his capable cast...Might best be remembered as the show with which relative newcomer Cassie Beck launched her career sky-high. Tart, sarcastic, and winsome all at once, her performance as Austin’s pregnant daughter Marianne is a marvel.

Variety C
(David Rooney) This attention-deficit therapy session is all jangled, raw nerves, never pausing long enough on any subject to settle on a lucid theme or establish a discernible point of view. Despite Bartlett Sher's customarily classy staging and a topnotch cast, most audiences will find themselves as unmoored as the characters...The most problematic aspect is the intrusive inner-voice elements, which either create confusion (is he/she saying that to the other characters or to us?) or spell out far too much...It may be the playwright's intention that the issues raised here are all but impossible to resolve, but it makes this a frustrating "Prayer" without an amen.

The Daily News C-
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Lucas constructs it so characters spend half the time passionately speaking their minds and spilling their guts to the audience, while keeping the chat polite and meaningless for friends and family. It's an interesting enough conceit, though at times you want to passionately yell at the stage - "Pick an idea and develop it!" Bartlett Sher...has shown he's a director with vision, but here his staging isn't compelling or clear. The cast is committed and works hard to make the most of their roles, some sketchier and more clichéd (like the Manhattan-phobic Dolores) than others. There's no doubt all six actors have better performances just down the road.

AM New York C-
(Matt Windman) About halfway through Craig Lucas’ new drama “Prayer for My Enemy" at Playwrights Horizons, we suddenly made the following quick prayer: “Please end this tortuous show as soon as humanly possible.” Unfortunately for us, the 100-minute intermission-less play continued to its full conclusion...Besides the sadness of every single character, there is not much of a plot. More often than not, you get the feeling that the playwright is rambling without focus...Still, we much give credit to Bartlett Sher for staging a handsome, nuanced production in spite of the play’s problems.

The Record D
(Robert Feldberg) Lucas is interested in big issues, but it’s hard to figure out what points he’s trying to make...Lucas puts on the table such topics as war, alcoholism, sexual identity confusion, the trauma of having an impaired child and all-around family dysfunction. But nothing sticks. I’ve rarely seen a play in which so much happens—offstage mostly—to such little effect...The sensation is of watching a play in a foreign language that you only somewhat understand. You get a general sense of what’s going on, but the essential details are missing.

Wall Street Journal D
(Terry Teachout) A mess, a mishmash of mawkish clichés that tries frantically to sound profound...Bartlett Sher's staging is cute and pretentious, just like the play.

Bloomberg News D-
(John Simon) The actors try to suggest the shift from dialogue to interior monologue (frequently within one speech) primarily through facial expression and body language. This doesn’t work at all and left me totally confused. Not that it mattered much, since I was equally unimpressed by the thoughts and the utterances...Why something that so manifestly cries out for Lucas’s drawer should be foisted on us for 100 intermissionless minutes, I can hardly explain. A+ 14; Talkin' Broadway A 13; Newsday A- 12; American Theatre Web A- 12; Time Out NY B+ 11; CurtainUp B+ 11; New Yorker B+ 11; Theatermania B+ 11; Hartford Courant B 10; Backstage B- 9; VV B- 9;The New York Times C+ 8; New York Post C+ 8; New York C+ 8; Variety C 7; The Daily News C- 6; AM New York C- 6; The Record D 4; WSJ D 4; Bloomberg D- 3; TOTAL: 177/20=8.85 (B-)

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