I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard (at Point Park’s REP) is a 2015 play that desperately wants to be a mid-20th-century American drama. But the playwright, Halley Feiffer, lacking the vitality of language to raise it to such standards, resorts to gratuitous f-bombs and homophobic vitriol to conjure a sense of passion. The dialogue sounds like Edward Albee and Arthur Miller tossed into a blender with rocks, and set on frappé.
The plot, concerning an aging, alcoholic playwright has-been and his daughter, a theatrical wannabe, reeks of predictability. Martin Giles (David) valiantly tries to free his character from the tendentiousness of the script, and creates some inspired scenes, but Feiffer keeps the players too shackled to her devices to surprise us. From the outset, we can guess how the story will end, and it does.
For some reason, Cathryn Dylan (Ella), is given a cartoonish persona during the first act, nodding hyperbolically to David’s ravings like a chittering sidekick. Ella is all grown up in Act II, five years later, but her evolution, and David’s, happens entirely off-stage, leaving us largely without empathy. Imagine Hamlet with the middle three acts removed.
What we do get is a lot of trash-can slamming, drinking and drugs, all of which feel like cheap props used to substitute for what stronger writing normally provides.
Stephanie-Mayer Staley (scenic design) and Dan Kendgia (light design) acutely evoke the avocado-and-dirty-orange patina of the 1970s in which David’s apartment is frozen, much like his talent. He is dying in this space, as anyone would.
Director Robert Turano starts the play with David’s volume at 10, and Ella’s at one. These levels will reverse, but the arc of the drama is warped: The first act is 30 minutes too long and the second is 30 minutes too short. Again, the fault is the author’s, not the cast and crew’s.
This is still an entertaining show, as we do come away feeling the pathos of these two lives. But we can only pray for Ms. Feiffer that her next work will better fulfill her potential as an accomplished playwright.