Dark comedy explodes with family tension, suppressed anger

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[media-credit name=”Cynthia Levin and The Unicorn Thea” align=”alignright” width=”300″]window_seat[/media-credit]

By Bob Evans

Get ready to laugh a lot at The Unicorn’s latest production, “I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard,” that opened Saturday night, April 22 to the usual packed auditorium.

For the first hour plus of the play, enjoy belly laughs as Theodore Swetz rants and raves about his past with story after story of his life as a successful playwright and his struggle to climb the ladder of success, leaving a trail of unhappiness with each step. His anger fuels the emotional roller-coaster relationship with his daughter who hangs on to every word in the stories he has recanted many times. Dina Thomas clings to each story as if she’s never heard it before with her unfaltering love of her father and the verbally abusive tyrant he evolved into.

The one-act play runs an hour and 40 minutes with no intermission, and Swetz’ delivery and mastery of the character creates many laughs for the first scene which lasts well over an hour. And, then the bottom drops out and the twist takes the play to unexpected depths.

[media-credit name=”Cynthia Levin and The Unicorn Theatre” align=”alignleft” width=”300″]David_in_his_world[/media-credit]

Producing Artistic Director for The Unicorn, Cynthia Levin said she read the play and immediately knew she wanted to do it. She said she knew she needed two dynamic actors for this play. Then, she turned over direction to The Coterie Artistic Director, Jeff Church and watched as the magic happened. Church who produces and directs many children’s theater productions met this challenge and produced a stunning look into the lives of a wannabe actress who is verbally inhibited by her angry and abusive father. The lessons learned in this play restate the obvious: “Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.”

[media-credit name=”Cynthia Levin and The Unicorn Theatre” align=”alignright” width=”240″]Dina_hit_show[/media-credit]

A press release from The Unicorn about “I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard” states: “Warning: This play includes smoking, snorting, and swearing, so don’t miss it!” Believe me, they are right on all counts. The play pushes the envelope, as The Unicorn so famously does with each production. The play, written by Halley Feiffer, fits so well into The Unicorn’s focus to challenge audiences with fresh, new, diverse play selections and premiere them for Kansas City audiences.

The dialogue is bitingly funny and sharp. Swetz’ delivery and mannerisms powerful and sharp. When he speaks and moves the audience’s eyes follow him. He rants and raves for almost 75 minutes while Thomas need to watch and react to each of his lines. While he speaks and tells of his past, and his emotional life unfolds, Thomas listens and hangs on to each work and story. While the stories are painfully funny to the audience, they have a profound effect on Ella, the daughter who wants to please her father and fulfill her own dreams of stardom.

[media-credit name=”Cynthia Levin and The Unicorn Theatre” align=”alignleft” width=”240″]huff_and_puff[/media-credit]

The back and fourth delivery between them is like watching a one-sided tennis match where David just monopolizes the game. As the match wears on, the challenger must find a way to survive the onslaught and find a way to succeed.

Both characters undergo tremendous change, but to say more gives away the plot line. The end result is a production where both actors shine. Their change is not gradual, but dynamic and unpredictable.

The two person cast is Dina Thomas as Ella and Theodore Swetz as David. The artistic staff is: Tanya Brown, stage manager; Sarah White, scenic designer; Art Kent, lighting designer; David Kiehl, sound designer; Ian R. Crawford, costume designer; Bret Engle, properties designer. The production staff is: Gregory Chafin, technical director; Amanda Jane Shank, dramaturg; Rita Sobbing, production assistant; Elizabeth McManus, sound board operator.

[media-credit name=”Cynthia Levin and The Unicorn Theatre” align=”alignright” width=”240″]Stool_Hug[/media-credit]

The show will not appeal to everyone, but for those who know The Unicorn, this fits right in their ball park. The show is a pleaser, though disturbing on several levels. Still, this is a play well worth the viewer’s time.

“I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard” continues through May 14 at midtown’s Unicorn Theatre on the Jerome Stage. Tickets and more information can be found on The Unicorn’s website. The Unicorn offers discounted tickets for Tues. and Wed. performances for those who cannot afford a full priced ticket.

 

Tags:  The Unicorn Theatre, “I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard’, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, Kansas City Theater

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