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Lær's Last Prayer
THEATER REVIEW
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2011-07-20

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Playwright: Stephen F. Murray. At: Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr. Phone: 800-838-3006;$15-$20. Runs through: July 24

At first glance, the stage looks like the prop shop for a Beckett festival: here we see the suitcases from Waiting For Godot, there is the desk from Krapp's Last Tape, and smack-dab at center is the wheelchair from Endgame, complete with sheet-shrouded elderly invalid seated therein and young valet in attendance.

Imagine our surprise, then, when the characters proceed to speak in a polyglot pastiche drawn from classical literature—chiefly Shakespeare—plunging us into a vertigo engendered by our simultaneous attempts to translate the lofty language into contemporary discourse, identify its disparate sources, and discern a subtext within the dialogue in progress. Our focus is further fragmented by the personae's propensity for clownish antics arising from objects plucked forth from the trunks and valises with which they are equipped—beanbags, batons, bulb-horns, tin-can telephones, a life-size skull.

Just when we think that we've fallen prey to a pack of English Lit undergraduates on a post-finals spree—Did I mention the doctor donning a commedia-style mask and enticing his patient to re-enact a variation on the Edgar-as-madman business from King Lear?—a blackout signals the start of a new scene, this one featuring a cheerful Ophelia armed with a cuddly stuffed lamb. She gives her name as Jill and when we discover the valet's name to be "Jack," suddenly we comprehend that they are a brother and sister keeping vigil by the bedside of their still-living, but no longer mentally active, sire—an experience nowadays increasingly shared by many people in our society.

Even before a note in the playbill (its cover decorated with a portrait of Samuel Beckett) affirms its academic origins, however, the text forged from Stephen F. Murray's "class project" bears all the hallmarks of lengthy ruminations and extensive study—qualities contributing to a meticulously-crafted lyricism better appreciated at leisure than in the immediacy of live performance. That said, there is no denying the industry and conviction of the actors who declaim this flowery speech—Nick Lake, Elliott Fredland, Brian Hurst and especially Jamie Bragg as the disheveled damsel seated on what she, after reciting the rhyme about "Little Miss Muffet," concludes must be a "tuffet." When Murray's grandiloquence threatens to overwhelm us, her sunny smile provides a welcome rest before we once more set out to brave the raging tempest of arcane oratory.


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