Nouveau 47 Theatre
Director - Diana Gonzalez
Stage Manager - Emily Trimble
Costume Design - Samantha Rodriguez
Sound Designer - Duane Deering
Producers - Amber McCord and Jim Kuenzer
Jacob Bergson - Randy Pearlman
Gilmore Nelson - Brian Witkowicz
Sophia Bergson - Mary-Margaret Pyeatt
Sub-Priest Edward O'Malley - Ben Bryant
Priest Alexander - Dwight Greene
Guard - Sam Swanson
Reviewed Performance 3/17/2012
Reviewed by Grant James, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Recipe for a dynamite evening of theatre: Take one very contemporary, powerful thesis and mix in a dynamic cast. Stir and bake. Serve on a bleak stage. The result should be dazzling, right? Well, almost.
Sometime, in the future, a country not unlike ours has become a fundamentalist state. Its citizens are ruled by the laws of God ? as interpreted by the government. A shopkeeper, Jacob Bergson, has been arrested and thrown into prison for writing a book which encourages revolution. His pleas that he is not the book's author, nor even the man they thought they were arresting, are met with little reaction. The authorities, militant priests, say that if it were not God's will, he wouldn't be there. Prayer explores truth, morality and justice in poignant and sometimes frightening ways.
I'll get into the production in a bit, but first a comment or two on the weakest element of Prayer: the script. I'm guessing that author Jonathan Kravetz wrote the final scene earlier than he wrote much of the play. It is a strong finish that could leave the audience emotionally drained. And it would, except for all that stuff before it.
It seems that Mr. Kravetz felt he had to fill up performance time, and does so with so much repetition that the audience is feeling, "let's get on with it," by the time we get to the end. A good re-write, moving decisively from one level of frustration and despair to another, could turn this nearly solid play into a fine one. The disturbing look at where a Theocracy could lead us is especially current, considering all the pseudo-religious political rhetoric with which we are bombarded this election year.
Especially chilling is the formal greeting between citizens in this apocryphal country. It is to Mr. Kravetz's credit that he has taken on this issue.
The production boasts one of the best all-around casts in the Metroplex. The characters are well defined and true.
The distressing scenes between Jacob (Randy Pearlman) and Gilmore (Brian Witkowicz) are fine examples of chemistry and conflict. And this is so, even though the script asks them to sustain emotional levels way longer than they should have to. Mr. Pearlman's transition from his first entrance to his last words is an exceptional bit of acting. And when he did what he does with the confession, there were audible gasps from the audience.
Priest Alexander (Dwight Greene) has a fine line to walk. We may hate what he stands for, but we understand why he does what he does. Mr. Greene plays this difficult role with subtlety and authority.
The role of the Guard (Sam Swanson) is equally difficult his ambiguity. A tough role well done. And when Sophia (Mary-Margaret Pyeatt) appears, and more shocking information is revealed, her handling of the situation is deadly.
Rounding out the cast is Sub-Priest Edward O'Malley (Ben Bryant) who tries to remain objective, but, like the other characters, has seen enough to be ambivalent. One thing that might help the play is a line or two showing why the officers are serving the government in spite of their personal doubts.
The staging is suitably sparse: a single cell, two beds and a door. I would have preferred the cell to be about half the size, more cramped and claustrophobic. As is, it is a bit loose, like the script. Samantha Rodriguez's costumes are suitable (no pun intended). I especially liked the fact that the priests wore black clerical collars under their military garb.
And the choice of music/sound was excellent, maintaining the atmosphere even between acts.
I was curious about some of Diana Gonzalez's direction. Granted, the limitations of the cell can make directing an unusually creative process. But a number of times one of the characters stood, downstage center, back to audience, blocking our view of the other characters on stage . Since it happened a few times, I assume it was intentional, but I found it interruptive.
Even with its shortcomings, Prayer is worth seeing and discussing. I am reminded of Mark Twain's brilliant remark: "God created man in His own image, and we returned the favor!"
Nouveu 47 Theatre
The Magnolia Lounge at Fair Park
1121 First Avenue at Grand. Dallas TX 75210
Through March 24, 2012
Thursday March 8, 15, and 22 @ 7:30pm - Friday March 9, 16, and
23 @8pm-Saturday March 10, 17, and 24 @8pm - Sunday March 11 and 18 @ 2pm ?
Pay what you can performance Saturday March 19 @ 8pm.
Tickets are $18.00