Those of us who have ever clung unreasonably to a failed romance can relate most deeply to Nicky Silver’s The Maiden’s Prayer, now being staged by Pygmalion Productions Theatre Company. Luckily for the show, that group includes … oh, just about everyone.
Most of the play’s central figures have been on the sad end of a doomed love: one man for his best friend, a woman for a man she briefly dated, a one-night stand for his one-night partner. The play examines them—humorously at first and then, unfortunately, dramatically—and lets them grow more bitchy and more bitter before ultimately bringing them peace and closure.
Contrary to custom, it is not the bride who is a basket case during the wedding which opens The Maiden’s Prayer, but her sister Libby (Charla Brinkpeter). She retreats with a bottle to the back yard and—as she pours the contents down her throat—pours out her soul to Paul (Carl Nelson), an innocent bystander and best friend of the groom.
The current reason for Libby’s devastation is that she once dated the groom and still is in love with him, but that scarcely begins to describe Libby’s vitriolic set of neuroses. Later in the play, after being fired from her position as the fastener-buyer for J. Crew, she declares that she has cut all the buttons off her clothes in protest.
“What about the zippers?” Paul asks.
“Well, I’m not insane,” she replies.
Ostensibly a recovering alcoholic and a reformed smoker—though “today is not the day” for either task—Libby has deep-seated resentment for her younger, prettier sister Cynthia (Christy Summerhays). And yes, she is also pitifully in love with Cynthia’s new husband, Taylor (Alex Bala).
She’s not the only one. Though he doesn’t say it outright—not even in his monologues addressed to the audience—it is clear by Paul’s moony behavior that he’s in love with his best friend, too. Paul, openly gay, has had a series of short relationships, but he still keeps a picture of himself and Taylor next to his bed. Taylor is tragically straight, though, and more than a little clueless to boot. He’s a perfect complement to Cynthia, a powerhouse of a woman whose skills at emotional domination and manipulation are mighty indeed.
Tangential to all this is Andrew (Brian Bahr), a flighty young man with whom Paul has a one-night stand that Andrew wants to turn into a relationship. He doesn’t take no for an answer, moving into Paul’s apartment and making himself at home. Rather than deal with it, Paul moves.
The first half of the play is mostly comic, thanks to Charla Brinkpeter’s insane ranting as Libby, with Carl Nelson providing stability—and earning a few laughs of his own—as her (no pun intended) straight man. Brian Bahr is funny as Andrew, too, though that character becomes more believable and less farcical in the second act.
Intermission is preceded by a sad event, though, and the second act—while not without its comedy—is primarily dramatic. Whether it’s due to the script or the performances or Barb Gandy’s directing is hard to say, but the play is much more compelling when it’s using comedy to tell its story. The humor—mostly verbal with a few forays into physical silliness—is sharp and well played by the cast, the exception being one particular three-way conversation between Paul, Taylor and Cynthia in which the timing is off and the dialogue feels forced.
The drama, on the other hand, is uniformly commonplace; any set of reasonably skilled actors could have handled it just as well as this cast. It does not distinguish itself the way the funny parts do—evidence, perhaps, that the thing to do when life forces you to face reality is to laugh, not cry. THE MAIDEN’S PRAYER Pygmalion Productions at Rose Wagner Studio Theatre138 W. 300 SouthThrough May 28 355-ARTS (2787)