Review: PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC is Beautifully Compelling at Actor's Express

What is it to be safe? This story seeks to find out.

By: Apr. 27, 2023
Review: PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC is Beautifully Compelling at Actor's Express
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Review: PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC is Beautifully Compelling at Actor's Express There are some questions we ask because we want to, and there are others we ask because we have to. PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC at Actor's Express asks both in a beautifully compelling story of a Jewish family searching for safety. With a thought-provoking script, PRAYERS is a gorgeous, expertly crafted, and relevant story. Sponsored by Susan Stiefel, this production is not one to miss.

An alleyway set up seats the audience across each other around an open stage of rich, warm, wood tones. High, crown-molded walls face off like bookends and a well-loved antique piano takes center stage. Scenic designers Isabel & Moriah Curley-Clay craft a balanced yet liminal set fully furnished with props designer Nick Battagila's thoughtfully curated pieces.

With a distinct sense of "playing zones," Joseph P. Monaghan III's lighting design invites you into a deeply layered experience. Light and time feel connected as different washes indicate different time periods throughout the play.

Jen J. Madison's costume design is fantastically contemporary. Something about Molly's purple shirt, dark-wash skinny jeans, and black boot combo felt exceptionally 2016. Distinct period costumes don the rest of the cast, creating a cohesive color scheme for the entire family.

This show has more music than you might expect, including a handful of songs sung on stage by the actors. Sound designer Kate Hoang's intuitive choices pair exceptionally well with Joe Alterman's compositions, creating a rich audio landscape that heavily favors the piano.

Review: PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC is Beautifully Compelling at Actor's Express Patrick Saloman, played by Ross Benjamin, is the first of the Saloman family we meet who frequently narrates to the audience. Benjamin's voice is smooth and mellow like newly roasted coffee that perks up your attention. His fantastic sense of story permeates the show as Patrick weaves in and out of the action.

The matriarch of the family, Marcelle Benhamou, is played by Producing Artistic Director of Théâtre du Rêve, Carolyn Cook. Cook has a powerful presence on stage, as if she's the moon tides of emotion swirl around. Her sharp directness commands attention, making it impossible not to join Cook in Marcelle's emotional journey.

Faina Khibkin plays Marcelle's moody and well-educated daughter Elodie Benhamou. Khibkin's incredible commitment to character is palpable. Elodie has one monologue so thorough and intense that I found myself at the edge of my seat to hear Khibkin speak.

Playing Molly, the quintessential American cousin come to visit, is Aliya Rose Kraar. Kraar's sense of comedic timing is excellent, and her bright energy brings a wonderful sense of much-needed buoyancy to the show.

Sharing the role with Jacob Sherman, Clayton Landey plays the adult version of Pierre Salomon. Landey's time on stage is short, but he packs a powerful punch. One of the Salomon family elders, Irma Salomon, is played by Susan Shalhoub Larkin. Larkin's warmth and wholesomeness light up the stage - you never doubt Irma's love.

Sean Maclean plays Lucien Salomon, the Salomon ancestor who restarted the family piano business after the war. Maclean's performance is steeped in the time period as if Lucien were living history.

The passionate Adir Lev Mann plays Marcelle's musically inclined son Daniel Benhamou. Mann taps into his spiritual side to deliver a compelling performance as the deeply religious and stubbornly peaceful Daniel.

Sharing the role with Clayton Landey, Jacob Sherman plays Young Pierre. Sherman brings an unusually deep gravitas to the role, playing with ease the serious child who had to grow up too soon.

Review: PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC is Beautifully Compelling at Actor's Express The modern-day doctor Charles Benhamou is played by Jared Simon. Simon has an evocative sense of balance in his performance, which makes it all the more moving when Charles becomes unbalanced.

Finally, Barry Stoltze plays the hopeful Adolphe Salomon, the man who was lucky enough to survive World War II without getting arrested. Stoltze is a joyful presence on stage and that highlights Adolphe's earnest good-nature

PRAYER is a deep and moving show with a multilayered, multi-generational story. Playwright Joshua Harmon plays with time, and there is an excellent sense of the past quite literally repeating itself as two characters from two different decades sometimes act together on stage. Setting his show during rises of fascism, Harmon tackles the difficult theme of safety - something I'm sure that's top of mind for quite a few Americans right now.

Artistic Director Freddie Ashley doubles as Director for this production of PRAYERS. Ashley's directing brings a dynamic level to the material. There is a sense of the fluid and the cyclical as if the central grand piano were a clock around which each character was a hand. As if the audience watched characters and time alike march forward together.

With two intermissions, you are in for a substantial night of theatre when you see PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC. Come to this show to be inspired, to ask yourself good questions, and to walk away with a deeper understanding of the world around you. Perhaps you'll find some answers here.

Review: PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC is Beautifully Compelling at Actor's Express

PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC is playing at Actor's Express from April 20th - May 14th - get your tickets now!