Set in a Manhattan apartment, Halley Feiffer’s I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard is a two-handed play exploring the fractured relationship between an award-winning playwright and his aspiring actress daughter. The play begins with David (Adrian Lukis) and Ella (Jill Winternitz) sharing a bottle of wine whilst waiting for the reviews of “The Seagull” (a play in which she’s appearing) are published. When the reviews eventually come he teases her further by raising her hopes by saying it is a “rave” before cutting her back down by again by saying that her only mention is in brackets.
David also loves telling Ella what he feels is wrong with theatre with a large part of his vitriol directed at critics! Ella sits there hanging on his every word, coaxing him to retell the story of how he walked out on his abusive father at the age of 17 to pursue his dream of working in the theatre. The language between the two is colourful and violent; they also share narcotics and marijuana as well as the bottle of wine.
At one point Ella asks her father about his relationship with her mother (who is heard but not seen during the play) and is taken aback when he reveals his feelings about the arrival of her in their lives.
Adrian Lukis gives a faultless performance managing to convey his lines in an assured, controlling, sometimes sinister way. Jill Winternitz complements him well managing to portray Ella equally well firstly as a starry-eyed twentysomething who longs for her father to tell her he loves her and later as a hardened, confident woman.
For the short, second act, the story has moved on a few years, Ella has just opened in a play which she is the writer, director and star. Again, whilst appearing confident she is apprehensive about what the reviews will bring. It is whilst she is waiting for the review a seemingly older, wiser David appears. Lukis delivers his lines in this scene to the tune of “Somewhere”. This scene is both clever and bittersweet.
Winternitz too delivers an emotional monologue which concludes the play extremely well. I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard is a well-written, observant piece. Anna Reid’s set is compact and functional showing great attention to detail including framed certificates and programmes (I particularly liked the vintage writing desk complete with antique typewriter). Jack Weir’s Lighting enhances the production. Jake Smith’s direction is well-paced and in keeping with the piece, particularly the darker moments.
Review by Karen Pond
“Everything I did – every decision I made – led me right here – right to this moment, here with you.”
Ella is a precocious and fiercely competitive actress whose sole aim in life is making her famous playwright father, David, proud. Over the course of a wickedly intense evening, Ella and David deliberate whether to read the reviews of her off-Broadway debut. But that decision could shatter their relationship forever…
A hilarious and gut-wrenching black comedy which sheds new light on the eternal struggles of family life. I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard reminds us that you don’t have to be part of a theatrical family to know that life is filled with drama. And for that, there’s no dress rehearsal.
I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard received its critically acclaimed Off-Broadway premiere in 2015, breaking box office records and earning Feiffer a nomination for an Outer Critics’ Circle Award. It is directed by Jake Smith, previous Trainee Director in residence at Chichester Festival Theatre, who returns to the Finborough Theatre following his sell-out revival of Andy Capp the Musical.
Tuesday, 28 February – Saturday, 25 March 2017