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The Theatreguide.London Review

I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard
Finborough Theatre   Spring 2017

A play full – perhaps overfull – of strong and convincing insights into the psychology of artists and of parents and children, Halley Feiffer's two-hander can be heavy going but will leave you with a lot to think and feel about. 

Supportive parents with high expectations for their children can be as much a burden as dismissive ones who ridicule their ambitions. Success striven for and even achieved to win Daddy's love (or to thumb one's nose at him) will never take away the pain. And love doled out with conditions can be as hurtful as love denied. 

A successful working-class playwright is encouraging his actress daughter as they await the reviews of her latest stage performance. His support of her is a sharp contrast to the tales he tells of his family's rejection of his artistic dreams. 

But oddly, success does not seem to have given him comfort and validation, and a wildly swinging bitterness at the world – the title is his screw-you response to every critic, rival or foe – eventually turns on her until it becomes clear that nothing short of total success on her part will earn his love. 

A coda set some years later shows what, if anything, has changed for either father or daughter. 

Structurally, the play has its awkwardness. Not only are we shown almost too much to absorb about both characters, but the long main scene is little more than a monologue for the father, while the daughter's part is reduced to little more than 'Tell me more' feed lines. 

And while that main scene might benefit from losing 15 minutes or so, the second act allows us tantalising glimpses of character insights we could want more of. 

But there is no question that playwright Feiffer has a lot to say and that she has written two complex characters and strong acting roles. 

And, directed by Jake Smith – whose only error is having both actors play much too big for the small Finborough space – Adrian Lukis and Jill Winternitz give layered and magnetic performances. 

Lukis communicates all the man's barely-controlled anger at the world even before we are offered explanations for its sources, and then guides us to both understanding and a degree of sympathy. A plot turn requires him to play a sequence in tuneless singing rather than normal speech, and the scene is not only technically adept but as haunting as the playwright could have hoped. 

As I indicated, Winternitz is given too little to do in the main body of the play, but the actress understands the power of listening onstage, and it is frequently her reactions to the father's rambling and tirades that we find ourselves watching and responding to. 

It is because the actress conveys so much about the character in the first part of the play that we want to get deeper into her in the short second act. 

A little less ambition, a few anecdotes or a layer or two of characterisation held back and saved for another play, might actually have improved this one. But it is that rare and thrilling thing – a perhaps less-than-perfect work with the unmistakeable voice of a real writer.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard - Finborough Theatre 2017