“I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard” at the Finborough Theatre

The performing arts can make a good subject for a play. With nods to The Seagull and theatrical dynasties, this piece has a firm base. As we’re helpfully informed, it’s a family drama (this kitchen sink is in Manhattan) featuring a successful writer and his aspiring actress daughter. Twists in the mood, humour to make you blush and uncomfortable moments show playwright Halley Feiffer to be an entertaining, intriguing voice.

Adrian Lukis takes the part of Oscar-nominated David. Foul mouthed and too aware of his own biography, he’s a good companion for theatre trips, but not so good to be related to. Lukis creates tension superbly out of  instability and a dangerous temper. His doting child is Ella, portrayed with emotion by Jill Winternitz. Her gushing dependency isn’t endearing – all the more credit that the performer, and careful moves from director Jake Smith, keep her interesting.

Ninety minutes with these two characters is trying, though – perhaps Smith could have placed more emphasis on the play’s humour. Questions arise about the father and daughter’s queasy closeness, with shared drug use and mutual blackhead popping (take your pick which is weirder). Add histrionics and it’s guaranteed there will be times when credulity is stretched. Deliberately so, but it’s questionable how much we can be bothered about these snowflake-sensitive egos.

As predicted, Ella goes on to create and star in her own play. And, of course, it’s autobiographical. The shock that her father didn’t beat her to writing it is explained movingly, leading to a powerful moment of drama. Both performers deal with jump in time deftly. But pinning the play’s two acts on waiting for a first-night review deflates the whole endeavour, creating a barrier against bigger questions. It’s incredible to think artists take critics quite so seriously. Even New Yorkers! So praise for all, but no rave review here. And I hope that isn’t taken too much to heart.

Until 25 March 2017


Photo by Scott Rylander