Published in Gay and Lesbian Times July 15, 2002
“A PRAYER FOR MY DAUGHTER”
Set in a New York City police station, “A Prayer for My Daughter” would seem to be about the grilling of two gay, junkie murder suspects by two crusty cops. But it’s really about what it means to be a man. And how men deal with emotion and relationships — with each other and with women, with daughters and as sons.
Playwright Thomas Babe, beloved of Joseph Papp and his New York Public Theatre, died last December at age 59. This play, written in 1978, is a trenchant psychological drama — vicious, brutal and edge-of-your-seat intense. There is so much going on here, on so many levels. During the course of the investigation, the hard-nosed, Irish alkie cop, Francis Kelly, gets repeated phone calls about the threatened suicide of his daughter. The outwardly affable Italian cop, Jack Delasante, himself a mainliner, uses the temptation of a fix as an interrogation tactic. ‘Sean the Con’ (who prefers to be called Simon) is a self-styled guru who has entranced, ensnared and hooked young Jimmy, who’s bucking to be the fall-guy for the murder of an old Jewish woman. It’s never totally clear exactly who pulled the trigger, but that’s less the point than the razor-sharp game of cat-and-mouse that is played nearly to the death, with hairpin turns and volatile reversals. In the process, we get to see way down deep into each of the characters, as they expose their fears and uncertainties, weaknesses and warts. They taunt each other with that knowledge, and each, in turn, is brought to his knees. The effect is chilling and unpredictable.
The vigorous, muscular production at 6th @ Penn is breathtaking. Director Robert May has assembled a stellar ensemble, which he’s directed with hair-trigger timing, explosive emotion and gritty reality. Every performance is outstanding. Dale Morris does his best work as Kelly, the prototypically cold, dispassionate macho male, who ends up rocking a near-naked young boy in his lap. Diep Huynh is terrific as Jimmy, the kid who’s constantly confused — by his sexuality, and by his simultaneous and conflicting roles as acolyte, thug and father. John Nutten strikes a splendid balance between kindness and cruelty, sensitivity and brutality. Brian Salmon makes a hugely welcome comeback to the San Diego stage, and does a masterful job as an impassioned spiritual leader, impassive criminal and seriously scarred Vietnam veteran.
Isabella Lonardi’s office design is an aptly battered, gray affair that’s clearly seen violence and better days. Every detail has been meticulously attended to in this impeccable production, which leaves you feeling as battered as the characters — disturbed, provoked and disconcerted, but energized by the exhilarating journey.
“A Prayer for My Daughter” has been extended through August 4; it runs Sunday-Wednesday at 6th @Penn Theatre; 619-688-9210.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.