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Review - Prayer or My Enemy: Pardon Me While I Have A Strange Interlude

Eugene O'Neill might not have been the first playwright to have time come to a halt mid-conversation while characters reveal hidden thoughts through internal monologues - a technique I'm sure is familiar to more Americans through Groucho Marx's spoof of his Strange Interlude in the film version of Animal Crackers than by having seen the play itself - and I'm certain Craig Lucas, whose Prayer For My Enemy has its share of supressed asides, won't be the last. But while I wouldn't opt for dramatic lighting and stylized acting every time someone has a personal moment, the playwright's desire, as stated in his script, that, "the manner of separating the inner from the outer can and should change throughout," can cause a tad of confusion in this play where lack of communication is key. Sure, we get the point when someone turns to the audience and starts talking, but a post-performance read of the text made it clear that a lot of the lines said while directly facing someone had actually gone unheard.

Then again, it does make exposition a heck of a lot easier. Seven lines after a chance meeting with his childhood chum Tad (Zachary Booth), Billy (Jonathan Groff), launches into a big chunk of monologue that quickly catches us up on how their sexual relationship during grade school helped him get through a difficult time and how they were supposed to be best friends for life but kept moving apart despite the fact that their time together remains a romantic memory that he could never talk to anyone about because...

Anyway, Billy joined the army reserves as a way of proving himself straight to his alcoholic, bipolar Vietnam vet dad (Skipp Sudduth) and has Tad join him for a family barbeque before being sent on his second stint in Iraq. Also in the picture are Billy's proud, supportive and dangerously enabling mom (Michele Pawk) and his sister (Cassie Beck), the divorced mother of an autistic child and the object of Tad's high school crush. (Besides Billy, that is.)

The author describes those unheard asides as representative of each character's "psychic interior," which seems comprised primarily of suppressed rage. While the play introduces obvious instances of violent conflict (war, road rage, a Yankees-Red Sox playoff match-up) the loosely-plotted 100 minutes seems more concerned with the self-inflicted violence that simmers away in the subtext of American suburban life.

Between scenes we hear from Victoria Clark as a comical woman named Dolores who addresses the audience with monologues about her romantic troubles, her distaste for city life and caring for her ailing mother. It isn't until late in the play that she becomes involved with the others.

While Dolores is the showcase role, and Clark is very engaging, director Bartlett Sher, who has guided the play through its two previous regional productions, draws solid work from an overall excellent cast, particularly Groff, whose soft, understated Billy is the sympathetic core. Pawk, in an underwritten role, gets to at least use her deliciously dry delivery to land one solid laugh.

Prayer For My Enemy, especially with this production, is the type of play that will certainly initially draw you in. How long it will keep you involved is another matter. It will undoubtedly be hailed as an artistic triumph, admired as a noble failure and dismissed as a well-directed bore over spiked eggnog at holiday parties throughout this merry season.

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From This Author Kristin Salaky