Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard

Off-Broadway plays, in my humble opinion, will always be a more visceral, poignant, and biting experience than their bigger siblings on the Great White Way.  Why?  Because they can take more risks, be bolder, and cover those topics that a white-washed, milquetoast Broadway production with it's high-priced tickets in coldly vacuous theaters simply can't.   And I think I like it that way.  Nothing beats a riveting play in an intimate downtown black box theater - and Halley Feiffer's potent new work, I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard, hits this nail squarely on the head and sinks it deeply into the wood beam much like a bullet penetrating a skull.

Reed Birney for whom this fan has noting but praise, once again raises his game and stretches his boundaries with David, a bitter, opinionated, acerbic, highly damaged playwright who maintains what one might categorize as an, abusive, domineering, and permanently corrosive relationship with his impressionable young actress/daughter, Ella (Betty Gilpin).  Up to this point I would never have pegged Mr. Birney for such an aggressive, bear-it-all role but his performance here has placed him in an entirely new category in my book.  For his next role, I can clearly see him playing Roy Cohn in Tony Kushner's Angels in America.  If I were a Tony nominator (and this play were actually eligible), Mr. Birney would get my vote hands down.

In this intimate two-hander at the Atlantic Theater Company - Stage II, we find David clearly dominating the conversation around his Upper West Side kitchen table in Act I.  When the smoke clears for Act II (quite literally), we find a once shy and awkward Ella all grown up and coming into her own in a dark downtown black-box theater mostly holding one-sided conversations on her cell phone.  While she has blossomed in her looks and confidence, what we quickly learn through her actions is a simple, timeless, and chilling lesson  - Like Father - Like Daughter.  

Don't expect a happy reunion between these two in the end.  Like the old phrase goes - What comes around, goes around.