Daniel Zaitchik and James McMenamin
in Prayer for My Enemy
(© Chris Bennion)
Daniel Zaitchik and James McMenamin
in Prayer for My Enemy
(© Chris Bennion)
With Prayer for My Enemy, which is making its world premiere at the Intiman Theatre before moving on next month to the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, playwright Craig Lucas aims to open a few holes in the American psyche and let our collective soul ooze through. Clogged as that psyche is with war, drugs, alcohol, disease, sexual deceit, and simmering familial resentments, piercing it requires a sharper implement than this play, with its scattershot approach. There's much about Prayer that's probing and insightful, but it never gathers the momentum to deliver the collective oomph that it would so clearly like to do.

The story starts with Billy Noone (Daniel Zaitchik) who, a day before his departure for Iraq, is accidentally reunited with former childhood friend Tad (James McMenamin). Their chance encounter brings Tad into Billy's family, dominated by Vietnam veteran and blustering alcoholic dad Austin (John Procaccino). Tad is right at home in the midst of the dysfunction, and quickly connects with Billy's divorced sister Marianne (Chelsey Rives, hovering adroitly between hope and hostility).

The Noone family story is punctuated by frequent incursions from Dolores (Kimberly King), a high-strung refugee from New York. Director Bartlett Sher sends her striding across John McDermott's minimal set, where she unfolds a story that's interesting enough but never fully integrated into the rest of the play. She eventually collides with the family, but her presence onstage otherwise remains a mystery.

Throughout the action, characters scrape up against each other, sometimes bursting out with interior monologues -- heard only by the audience -- that underscore their disconnect and frustration. Sher and lighting designer Stephen Strawbridge highlight these breakouts in a sharp yellow gleam, minimizing what could otherwise be a source of confusion.

Judging by the program -- where a bio for an actor whose part was cut appears at the top of the cast list -- the actors were juggling rewrites well into the rehearsal phase. It shows up in the disjointed pacing of the show, and the increasing frequency with which the characters' inner monologues become Pearls of Wisdom moments. It's as if Lucas had too many ideas to cram into one play.

Nonetheless, the cast is very fine. McMenamin, who's all shaggy appeal, and Zaitchik are standouts as they weave a complex relationship that's rooted in the boys' early sexual experimentation with each other. As Billy's mom Karen, Cynthia Lauren Tewes is sadly wasted in a role that gives her very little to do.

As the family grapples with its psychic wounds, McDermott injects a little magic with a canopy of orange leaves that descend over a family picnic. Most of Sher's staging is minimal, supplying just enough to orient us in time and space. Downstage center in most of the family scenes are a fully-stocked cart of alcohol and mixers. In a nice touch, Sher has the actors wheeling each other on rolling furniture -- a couch here, a hospital bed there -- and as scenes begin and end.

Given a few more drafts and a clearer dramatic direction, Prayer for My Enemy will likely pack an emotional wallop.