Unanswered Prayer at Nouveau 47

Randy Pearlman in Prayer

Prayer,  by Jonathan Kravetz: as in without a, or much needed. In Nouveau 47’s inaugural New Works/New Voices Festival in 2011, Kravetz’s The Beast in My Pants, a sexy, erudite farce romp splashed with social commentary, helped launch the new festival with style and sophistication. I was delighted when I learned that Nouveau 47 planned to produce another Kravetz play in 2012.

Brian Witkowicz in Prayer

Here it is: a prison drama with murky mystery elements set in a stereotypical fundamentalist totalitarian society verging on populist overthrow. Not even GB Shaw tried to get audiences to take him this brow-furrowed seriously in his plays laden with complex, philosophical, socio-political commentary. It’s self-conscious, ponderous going; I think Kravetz should stick with farce. Maybe this work reads better than it plays. Faster, at least.

Where’s the play’s dramatic tension? Where’s the conflict? Within the first ten minutes the actors telegraphed who had done what to whom, who had a false identity, who was a snitch, a good guy, a rules and regulations bureaucrat, why the main prisoner’s wife failed to appear… it all laid out like Morse code in foreshadow-play. What remained was an arduous, long acting exercise in discomfort and increasing ennui. I generally enjoy Brian Witkowicz and Randy Pearlman on stage; they are two of the region’s most dynamic, multi-dimensional actors.  They bored me in their lead roles here. The strict linearity of the action, in a space way too open to define a claustrophobic prison cell, made their movement seem strained and “blocked.” Ben Bryant and Dwight Greene as prison officers verged on ‘weekday afternoon melodrama’ performance, in peculiar contrast to the ultra-realism of Pearlman and Witkowicz. By the time Mary Margaret Pyeatt entered in Act II (usually a breath of fresh air on stage), I no longer cared as I already had a clear idea what her appearance would reveal. Sam Swanson as the Guard did what he could with a predictably cruel, utterly non-original role as written. Sound design by Duane Deering and set design (lighting?) by Donny Covington provided an effectively gloomy, ominous context. If this work represents the best of today’s social issue plays, I may just take up prayer, myself. Prayer was directed by Diana Gonzalez. It runs through March 24, 2012 at the Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park.  www.nouveau47.com

Review also posted on content partner TheaterJones.com

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