“I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard” catches us off guard. At the outset we see Ella (early 20’s) and David, her middle-aged dad visiting, drinking white wine in a cheery, brightly lit kitchen. David is holding forth with endless anecdotes. While his stories are peppered with obscenities and invective, we figure it’s chutzpah, bearish bluster. David is a boozy, feverish, air gobbling playwright, well-established and swinging wildly between joviality and ferocity. Ella is caught up in his charismatic animation, trying to keep up with his vacillating signals. Like other contemporary playwrights Halley Feiffer knows how to play us, by changing the context of what we witness. Initially it’s amusing to see Father and Daughter sharing : wine, tobacco, weed and cocaine like a couple of giddy freshmen but by the time the show’s over, we’re starting to feel ambivalent and queasy.
It’s worth noting that (in addition to his other pathologies) David seems obsessed with heterocentrist swagger. The playwright he holds most in awe is gay, and while he says he doesn’t care, David feels this intense need to use graphic, pejorative terminology when referring to gay men. He tosses it off very casually but he’s very consistent in his diatribe. David’s personal narratives are suffused with memories of disappointment and his refusal to forgive sleights actual and imagined. Make no mistake. In the harsh details of David’s rise to mastery and recognition, it’s easy to understand his need to be decisive and bold. Unfortunately he also over-personalizes situations and punishes those he loves when he deems their behavior unworthy.
Halley Feiffer has created a merciless, cyclonic exploration of the connection between a titanic genius, and his equally talented daughter. Their bond is so palpable, you can’t imagine the excruciating blows to follow, but they come. Despite the hints along the way, the rage and agony is startling and utterly raw. We all understand that parents often make mistakes when wielding cruelty for the sake of building character (this hurts me more…) but I’m Gonna Pray…is such a demented mockery of this mindset, it takes our breath away. David is so messed up and irresistibly frothy we don’t exactly understand which train we’re boarding, but it will take you straight to shipwreck and chaos. Jenny Ledel and Barry Nash are nothing short of fearless and stunning.
Kitchen Dog Theater presents I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard, playing February 12th-March 12th, 2016. 161 Riveredge Drive (The Green Zone) Dallas, Texas 75207. 214-953-1055. www.kitchendogtheater.org