Cassie Beck, Zachary Booth, Victoria Clark, Jonathan Groff, Michele Pawk, Skip Sudduth
Playwright Craig Lucas’s new play Prayer For My Enemy, one in a long list of recent plays to tackle the war in Iraq, is at the very least a fascinating dramatic exercise.
Neither an all-out success nor a flat-on-its-face failure, the play bites off more than it can chew while still managing, at least in part, to satisfy on a gut level.
Billy, having joined the reserves, finds he’s going to fight in Iraq.
In the run-up to his deployment, he runs into his childhood friend Tad, with whom he’s got a sexual history, inviting him to the his going away party, where Tad subsequently falls for Billy’s sister Marianne.
Unsure of himself, Billy struggles with his sexuality in the face of his macho Vietnam draft vet father Austin, who refuses to let him be. Meanwhile, a seemingly unrelated woman named Dolores tends to her ailing mother.
At first, it’s uncertain just how the Dolores character will factor into the plot, but the crash collision of her subplot with Billy’s family’s is ultimately the catalyst the play needs to find its stride. Victoria Clark imbues Victoria with noisy New York neuroses, railing on street-cleaners and cops with equal vigor.
Jonathan Groff also turns in a thoroughly credible performance as Billy, portraying his second soldier of the year (after an acclaimed run as Claude in Shakespeare in the Park’s Hair). His embodiment of Billy is colored by ambivalence and ingenuousness, qualities that come naturally to Groff.
Hauntingly engaging strings-and-bells-style music by Nico Muhly fit the mood of the piece like a glove, as does John McDermott’s simple, versatile set.
It’s the magical realism of the piece, one of Lucas’s signature motifs (of particular note in his most famous play, Prelude to a Kiss), that ultimately creates the most problems within the play. Though Lucas’s influence can be seen in the fanciful conceits of Sarah Ruhl and other modern playwrights, here he arms his characters with entirely too many emptily pretty lines.
In a magical scene involving Austin’s advice to son Billy, Austin advises his son to “keep your eyes open while kissing” and “listen to gravity, the pull.”
Though there are many wonderful lines on display here (“If I drink, I break out in handcuffs,” Austin proclaims early on), there is also an abundance of overwritten material, which ultimately keeps Prayer For My Enemy from taking off and proving itself more than a worthy exercise in craft.