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Connecticut Theater

"A Prayer for my Enemy"
Long Wharf Theater, New Haven

Like Dadaism, the art movement that championed unconventionalities like throwing bits of writings into the air and letting them land helter-skelter, “Prayer for my Enemy” is both a puzzle and a shambles. Craig Lucas’ 90-minute, no intermission, shaggy dog tale at Long Wharf Theater comes across as a trance-induced work, a jumbled dream.

Lucas, whose “Dying Gaul” and libretto for “Light in the Piazza” were memorable additions to stage literature, attempts to dissect fragmented American lives. He takes on lack of communication, drugs, randomness, fathers and sons, unfulfilled sexual desires and a penchant for violence that links Iraq and the home front. It’s too much, too diffuse, and Lucas’ scattershot ideas ping-pong across the stage.

Basically, he’s dealing with a nuclear family on the edge of detonating itself. (The possibility of a catastrophic explosion at Indian Point is mentioned.) Paterfamilias Austin Noone is a bipolar Vietnam veteran in AA; mother Karen knits, in between worrying and crying; daughter Marianne is the divorced mom of an autistic child; brother Billy, gay and yearning for dad’s approval, joins the Army and is sent to Iraq.

Into the mix comes bisexual Tad, once Billy’s highschool lover who still harbors a yen for his former friend, but impregnates and marries Marianne (in that order); also Dolores, a seemingly tangential figure who natters on about her stroke-victim mother until she’s forcefully and unwillingly snagged by the dysfunctional Noone family.

As for “prayer,” at one point Austin kneels and crosses himself, perhaps asking for strength to resist taking a drink, but who knows. Several references to Iraqi civilian casualties and an inadvertent fatality hint at other needs for prayer.

But that aspect is as specious and unresolved as is most of the evening. Lucas, who on other occasions, has taken a stab at mysticism (“Reckless,” “Prelude to a Kiss”) with better and more amusing results, here is so uncertain of tone that he founders. Even an atmospheric star curtain, gliding furniture, looming trees, a slowly descending neon strip and cryptic music can’t prevent the play from being earthbound.

It’s a measure of the work’s failure that the most interesting character is also the most peripheral. That would be Dolores, whom Julie Boyd invests with an initial bubbleheadedness that turns angry, vindictive and deadly. Prowling the stage like a restless animal, she speaks directly to the audience, going from complaints about cities as “one long shriek of rage” to a hair-raising, beautifully rendered tale of fear and revenge.

Director Bartlett Sher elicits nuanced performances. John Procaccino’s Austin hides a melting interior underneath gruff words (his mantra: “When in doubt, do nothing”). Daniel Zaitchik is appealing as the tightly wound Billy. His monologue about nearly dying (“I started to ache for the people I loved and I moved back into this world”) is touching. James McMenamin suggests the sweetness underneath Tad’s hippy surface. Cynthia Lauren Tewes as Karen and Katie Rose Clarke as Marianne also hold tight reins on their feelings, letting them show in telling gestures and looks.

Occasionally, Lucas has his characters express emotions in comments unheard by others, although these are awkwardly shoehorned into the play. Amidst poetic existential musings (“This is the moment in time that actually is”), Lucas struggles to get everything in. Sometimes he tells us too much, but that doesn’t compensate for the times when he’s telling us precious little.

-- David A. Rosenberg
Oct. 1, 2007

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