Friday, 3 March 2017

Review I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard

The British première of a whipsmart, brutal play set in a New York apartment fascinates Francis Beckett with its lacerating dissection of a father-daughter relationship.  

I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard 
by Halley Feiffer

Portrait Of The Artist As A Raving Egotist

A young American actress, excited and hopeful after opening in a new show, comes home with her famous playwright father, and they consume a lot of drink and a lot of drugs; and he takes out the disappointments and resentments of his own life by manipulating a daughter who hero-worships him.

That’s pretty much it, really, but it adds up to an evening in the theatre which leaves you angry and emotionally drained.

The father is a man of his time, and his time is the late fifties and the sixties, so he has all the self-indulgence of that most indulged generation, plus the sort of sexual obsession that seems to grip many American men of a certain age. If he wants to be insulting about another man, he calls him a queer or speculates that his sexual organ may not be large. Dicks and pussies figure large in his discourse.

His cultural references are those of his generation, such as Death of a Salesman, but there is underlying bitterness that he never achieved the same status as the likes of Arthur Miller.  He has told his daughter his stories of triumph and near-triumph many times, but she still listens agog – and he sulks when she remembers the punch line.

He is mean about small things. She needs a cigarette and has run out; he has one alight, but refuses her because there is only one left in his packet. He teases her about her reviews, and cheers her with more drink and more drugs. He tells her “you gotta learn to drink like an adult” as he drinks like a spoilt child.

He says he loves his daughter, and in his own way he does. Would he still love her if she failed to make it as an actress, she wants to know.  Well, yes, but he’d be really disappointed. And “your mother getting ill is the best thing that could have happened to us” – for she might have got in the way.

In short, the man is such a complete shit that, despite Adrian Lukis’s best efforts in the part (and Mr Lukis’s best efforts are very good), I for one could not give a damn what happened to him.

The daughter is another matter. Jill Winternitz gives a stunning performance, believable and heart-rending from start to finish.  She is what her character wants to be – an exceptionally talented actor of star quality. We pray for her character to escape the clutches of her domineering, manipulative father, until she does, and – without giving away the end – it is not what we hoped for.

A fine play, well acted and thoughtfully directed by Jake Smith, is well worth the trek to the Finborough and earns a green light.

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