Stage review: The Rep's 'I'm Gonna Pray for You So Hard' dazzles
October 6, 2016 12:00 AM
"I'm Gonna Pray for You So Hard," stars Cathryn Dylan and Martin Giles.
By Christopher Rawson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
We love our children, but do they love us? (Did we love our parents?) Peter Ustinov put it this way: “Parents are the bones on which children sharpen their teeth.” Children necessarily win in the end, but the parents’ revenge is that the kids are stuck with the legacy of the battle.
Such is the cheery theme of Halley Feiffer’s “I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard,” her 2015 two-character play that pits a famous playwright father and novice actor daughter first against the world, then each other.
Martin Giles, playing David, the award-winning playwright, rants full blast right out of the gate, warning Ella against the perfidy of critics, opportunist directors, stab-you-in-the-back actors, venal producers and everyone else. But soon we realize it’s his own life that obsesses him, and she is simply an accidental appendage.
“I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard”
Where: The Rep at the Studio Theatre, Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland.
When: Through Oct. 16, 8 p.m. Thurs.-Fri.; 2 and 8 p.m. Sat.; 2 p.m. Sun.
Tickets: $29, $15 seniors and $10 students; www.pittsburghplayhouse.com or 412-392-8000.
Indeed, the father she loves is such a monster of ego that she functions mainly as a worshipful acolyte, slapped down whenever she voices a thought of her own. He denies any regrets about his poisoned life, in which his own father’s emotional abuse clearly had a hand. It’s lurid stuff, and director Bob Turano launches the play with swelling operatic chords, continuing to underscore occasionally along the way.
Playwright Feiffer (daughter of famed cartoonist Jules) is a bit of a sadist, herself: the relationship between egomaniacal father and emotionally needy daughter threatens to go even further as it skates along the edge of a more terrifying abuse. And I can’t be the only onc who felt the first act more and more painful, and far too long.
Mr. Giles attacks his unrelenting rant with fierce energy, revealing the scary relish with which this monster infantilizes his daughter. Having chewed her up, he then relaxes with pleasure. But not really. The end of this exhausting Act 1, a 90-minute tour de force for Mr. Giles, sets us up for something different in Act 2.
Do not make the mistake that theater rookies sometimes do, of putting in the work required by Act 1 and then leaving early, depriving themselves of the harvest of Act 2. That’s particularly rich in “Pray for You,” and short, as well, almost redeeming the dour din of Act 1 and bringing the whole play in at under two hours and 10 minutes.
Five years later, the needy girl of Act 1 has become a swaggering young woman dressed in killer red (short dress, shoes, lips and nails) — the operative word being nails. She’s on the set of an autobiographical play she’s written, just after opening night, waiting for the reviews. We see the ghost light on the set, and it isn’t the only ghost that night. But just as you win the war, the enemy fades away. So who is the winner, now?
“Pray for You” is an intense experience, with all its stage references providing a particular payoff for a theater-savvy audience.
Act 1 is practically all David’s monologue although the much-shorter Act 2 is hers. Mr. Giles skillfully supplies all the required self-regarding cynicism and bile, hinting at terrors deep within. Cathryn Dylan plays Ella with needy, yearning smiles, then relishes the turn-around of Act 2.
But of course it isn’t a turnaround, just more of the same, with the roles reversed. The overall result is theatrically explosive but psychologically simplistic. Or is it? Throughout, director Turano invokes that yearning tune, “Somewhere,” from “West Side Story,” a “Romeo and Juliet” theme that proves both ironic and appropriate, creepily so.
Senior theater critic Christopher Rawson: 412-216-1944..
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