Pictured: Theodore Swetz and Dina Thomas. Photo by Cynthia Levin.
Review: I’M GONNA PRAY FOR YOU SO HARD at Unicorn Theatre
By Marie Warner
Some plays are just hard to watch. The Unicorn Theatre’s production of I’M GONNA PRAY FOR YOU SO HARD is one of those.
Halley Feiffer’s two-person play takes place after young actress Ella’s Off-Broadway debut. As she and her father David, a famous playwright, wait to read the Times review of Ella’s performance, a lifetime of damage comes to the surface. They spend the evening consuming copious amounts of wine and a few other controlled substances.
It quickly becomes clear that this is not a healthy father/daughter relationship. Ella fervently tells her father how much she loves him, and feigns excessive interest in his stories. David lavishes praise on Ella, yet screams at her if she interrupts him. The bulk of the first act consists of David telling tales about his upbringing, his first job in the theater, and all the ruined relationships left in his wake. These stories further illuminate the complicated history of this family.
Ella is desperate to receive a good review — and by extension David’s approval. While he claims to love her and be proud of her, when Ella doesn’t get the review she hoped for, David turns on her, and the fragile peace between them is ruined.
The second act takes place five years later on the opening night of Ella’s autobiographical one-woman show, bringing the action full circle. It gives new meaning to the phrase “turning into your parents.”
This show is dark. Watching two people who love each other completely destroy each other and seeing a parent and child enable substance abuse and addiction is hard to take in.
Theodore Swetz and Dina Thomas do an admirable job. Swetz runs the first act with his tirades and stories, while Thomas gets the second. The play is wordy, but both Swetz and Thomas are up to the challenge.
At its heart, I’M GONNA PRAY FOR YOU SO HARD is a story of familial damage — the way people are hurt, how they then hurt others and the vicious cycle of abuse. It’s not an easy watch, but it is worthwhile.
I’M GONNA PRAY FOR YOU SO HARD runs through May 14th. For more information visit UnicornTheatre.org.