Stage reviews: ‘I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard,’ ‘Her Song’

Posted on 19 Feb 2016 at 7:20am

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One booze-filled night, David (Barry Nash), a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright whose output seems to have diminished in recent years, alternates giving his actress-daughter Ella (Jenny Ledel) a pep-talk with passive-aggressively undermining her self-confidence. David is a bootstraps guy, the kind who willed his career as a writer after cozying up to a famous queer mentor. Theater critics are queers, too … and pedophiles, and micro-penised losers and every other Trumpian epithet this profanely self-important windbag can come up with. We’ve all met men like David — those with their best years behind them, who lord past successes over those in their orbit like a sniper waiting to take out a warlord, or a lion trying to preserve his place in the pride.

Ella, poor thing, has been subjugated by him, masking her confusion between chardonnay and a smiling expression. But even she is primed to crack, especially as the two wait for reviews to come in of the edgy off-Broadway production of The Seagull in which she has a supporting role.

I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard is classic Kitchen Dog fodder: A scabrous, angry, contemporary dark comedy. We’ve seen shows like this before, of course — they’re a kind of subgenre of Britain’s midcentury kitchen sink dramas, with (201) area code and seemingly vulnerable women at their heart — but that doesn’t undermine the craft which has gone into making this one. An intimate two-hander, it relies entirely on the casting, which pits the iron-nosed Nash against Ledel, one of Dallas’ best younger actresses (she reminds me most of Clare Danes, without the tics). They wit and parry in this talky, self-referential play (it’s about theater, and often reflects theater as well, especially Death of a Salesman’s sense of delusion). It’s bitter and funny and uncomfortable, and suited well to KDT’s temporary space at the Green Zone in the Design District.

It’s a far cry from the retro supper club and cabaret that Echo Theatre is presenting at the Bath House. Her Song is a revue of classics from the Great American Songbook, all written (in whole or part) by women. More than just a concert, it’s a theatrical experience, with a script and characters and a setting (around 1935) where dames and fellas romance each other in the glow of a gin joint. (There’s even cocktails and food available for the patrons, which might be helpful staying warm: They cranked up the A/C on press night to the point of discomfort.) The songs represent an intriguing collection of standards, all delivered with panache and old-timey bravado.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2016.

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