Love's Labor Lost
The truth-telling games and litany of deceptions that litter Conundrum State Productions' version of The Maiden¹s Prayer might be tolerable if director Scott Gibson were to provide Nicky Silver's play with an adequate staging. As it is, the two-act play languishes under a slew of problems, including vast passages of garbled dialogue, a host of ill-defined characters, recurring episodes of meaningless self-indulgence and countless unjustified pauses that add at least fifteen (ponderous) minutes to a convoluted, two-hour-plus tale. In fact, by the time Silver's look at modern love and relationships lumbers to its sordid finish, it's difficult to care whether the guy who tried to kill himself will at last pull himself together, or if the prostitute with a heart of gold will find fulfillment as an underpaid publishing drone. Neither do you need to reflect upon the slightly interconnected relationships of two gay men and a confused husband. Who, by the way, is the guy who tries to blow his brains out because his wife has left him, causing him to take to drink, which he hasn't done since being in AA, whose meetings he no longer attends. When he did attend, though, he formalized his relationship with the prostitute with the heart of gold, who happens to be his wife's sister (and wasn't yet a prostitute, though her heart, it seems, was mostly untarnished).
As you try to take all of this in, two portentous musical notes frequently play in the background like a tonal version of the infamous water torture. The actors, all of whom deserve credit for tackling a difficult script without much directorial support (none that proves effective in performance, anyway), sometimes stare at the floor and mumble as though they were performing in a tiny theater where the slightest nuance comes across loud and clear. Unfortunately, much of what they attempt to communicate simply gets lost in the Oriental Theatre's vast confines. During the many pauses, they valiantly try to summon a wealth of emotion, only to tap into feelings that seem forced, generalized and disconnected from their immediate situation.
On the brighter side, the performers find fuller expression during scenes that require them to yell very loudly or address the audience in folksy, chatty ways. In particular, actress Lindy Phelps renders a decent portrayal of Libby, the bridesmaid who turns to the oldest profession completely by accident (and, she ruefully notes in a touching monologue, out of a moment of abject loneliness). And Matthew Smith is engaging as the eternally nomadic Andrew, a charming waif who plays a dangerous game of emotional hopscotch with both his many lovers and his numerous jobs.
The Maiden's Prayer
Oriental Theatre, 4335 West 44th Avenue
Presented by Conundrum State Productions
Through October 21
To be sure, the play has much to say about the interconnectedness of love, work and relationships in an age when all three are being radically reshaped and redefined. Unfortunately, director Gibson barely scratches the surface of the play's deeper layers.
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