|Photo by Charles Jeffreys|
|Bart Shatto, Greg Oliver Bodine and David Ian Lee in "Prayer" at the New York International Fringe Festival.|
I must believin'
"Prayer" is a sharply written satire about a country ours, maybe where obedience to God has become the law and jail is the only place left with free thinkers in it.
By JOSHUA TANZER
"Prayer" is in the category of plays where everything can most easily go wrong the politics and religion category, the home of self-important diatribes and sermons to the choir. And yet, "Prayer" is neither of these things. It jabs just hard enough at its satirical target, speaking more through human conversation and suggestive turns of phrase than grand statements.
Jonathan Kravetz's play is about a country let's assume it's America today, although there's no reason it couldn't be Kafka's Austria in the 1920s that is a kind of theo-mocracy. It must have been a democracy once, because the vocabulary is a familiar remnant from a country such as ours where we believe that we believe in democracy. But the machinery of the state is devoted to doing His will. Into this machinery falls the hapless Jacob Bergson.
|Written by: Jonathan Kravetz.|
Directed by: Joseph Beuerlein.
Cast: Greg Oliver Bodine, Rob Yang, David Ian Lee, Joe Masi, Erin O'Leary, Bart Shatto.
Music by: Anne Mironchik.
Sound design by: Neil J. Freeman.
Set design by: Clinton O'Dell.
Costumes by: Clinton O'Dell.
Lighting design by: Tim Cryan.
Production stage manager: Laura Schlachtmeyer.
|Schaeberle Studio Theatre at Pace University|
41 Park Row, 12th floor
Fringe Festival 2008, Aug. 8-24, 2008
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The play takes place entirely in Bergson's all-black prison cell, where he has just been jailed on suspicion that he is secretly the radical author Dr. Hawkes. On the outside, Hawkes' book has inspired a revolutionary movement, while on the inside, Bergson insists he's merely the ordinary shopkeeper he appears to be. The prison staff all call him "Dr. Hawkes" anyway, until they've made it almost a fact through repetition.
"I'm not who they say I am!" Bergson pleads to a guard at one point.
|Photo by Charles Jeffreys|| |
|Greg Oliver Bodine in "Prayer."|| |
"You are who they say you are," the guard corrects him. "That's the whole point of this place."
One of the play's strengths is how it weaves in questions about truth and belief, and not just the obvious ones. There's the inevitable cynicism of power, as the will of God becomes identical to the wishes of His human agents. And there's the question of what happens after the state has made the people mouth its dogmas the people lose not only the power to resist but even the power to think at all. After enough years of controlled thought, all the state manufactures are manipulators, a few troublemakers and many simpletons. This play is about all of these.
Kravetz's sharp writing is complemented by a minimalist design the jailers all in black and white, matching the all-black theater, and the prisoners in an occasional shade of gray.
Greg Oliver Bodine is just right as Jacob Bergson, a painfully ordinary, probably-Jewish, fully intimidated conscript to the state religion what they would call in Yiddish, if it still existed in the play's reality, a schmo. My favorite actor, though, was Rob Yang as Bergson's sarcastic cellmate, Gilmore. The only time I felt the script was slowing down even a little was a brief time when Yang wasn't onstage. Bodine's character could feel crushed and confused, but Yang's was nimble and irreverent. As long as he was there, the star chamber had its jester.
| ||Photo by Charles Jeffreys|
| ||Rob Yang in "Prayer."|
"Does anybody around here care about the truth?" Bergson demands.
"Do you always talk this way?" Gilmore needles.
"Prayer" is (well, out of my own small sample, at least) one of the finds of the Fringe Festival. It is not simply a righteous polemic it is about what happens to the human mind under repression. It's a deft satire of people living in the borderland where Rush Limbaugh's American dream, George Orwell's nightmare, and the Spanish Inquisition come together.
|AUGUST 25, 2008|
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