Unanswered Prayers

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:14

    Craig Lucas has a lot of balls in the air in Prayer for My Enemy. Some of them are adeptly handled, but too many are allowed to fall with a thud for the play to be wholly successful.

    Not that the text really matters, since Victoria Clark (reunited with her The Light in the Piazza scribe and director Bartlett Sher) is giving a mesmerizing performance that demands to be seen. As Dolores, a single woman caring for her aging mother in an upstate New York suburb, her series of monologues are a striking note in Lucas’ otherwise muddled play, one so unwieldy that Clark’s character isn’t even integrated into the rest of the story until Prayer for My Enemy’s final 15 minutes.

    Among the many plot points fighting for attention are the Iraq war, the pain we inflict upon loved ones, alcoholism, repressed homosexuality, the definition of courage and autism. Is it any wonder that the show plods along, with intermittent flashes of searing writing?

    Perhaps Lucas’ worst misstep is the inclusion of the Iraq war. Setting the play in 2003 and 2004, the playwright takes full advantage of the time period to talk about the atrocities and wrongheadedness of the war against terror. But for whom is Lucas writing these passages? Surely not for liberal New York audiences, who are fully aware that the war has not gone according to plan. At this point in our nation’s history, do we really need yet another show that’s breathless with disbelief over what American troops are capable of?

    One of those soldiers is Billy (Jonathan Groff), who meets his childhood crush Tad (Zachary Booth) at a gas station right before he's about to be shipped off to Iraq. As they chat with one another, both of them suddenly begin revealing their inner thoughts to the audience, a device that Lucas overuses in the play’s first half, only to abandon it later. Confusingly directed by Sher, these sequences don’t reveal anything that couldn’t be told through the performances.

    Billy brings Tad home to his going away party at his parents’ home, where his father Skipp Sudduth) still remains a boor and his sister (Cassie Beck) is half-defeated from a life that has already included a divorce and an autistic child. But Tad finds a place for himself in the family, while Billy is overseas trying to prove to his father that he’s not a sissy. The army seems to have helped, since Groff’s effeminate performance disappears entirely after Billy returns home.

    None of it matters, though, whenever Clark appears on stage. Selling even Lucas’ weaker material (including a rant about how filthy Manhattan is that feels designed to play to the lowest common denominator in the audience), her periodic monologues gradually build to a crescendo that the rest of the show could never hope to achieve. Perhaps Lucas should focus on Dolores and leave the rest of the confused and rehashed Prayer for My Enemy behind in no-man’s land.

    Thru Dec. 21. [Playwrights Horizons], 416 W. 42nd St. (betw’n 9th and 10th Aves.), 212-279-4200, $65.