REVIEW: “How To Pray” at Bridge Street Theatre

by Macey Levin

How to Pray by Michelle Carter is a quirky and sweet play with several provocative propositions. It is receiving a tight and well-tuned production at the Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill, New York.

Faith (Susan Slotoroff) has reluctantly agreed to be a surrogate mother for her brother and sister-in-law.  They, however, have agreed to divorce and neither one wants the baby.  Unwed and struggling with emotional conflicts, she is confronted by the obvious choices… does she keep the baby or put it up for adoption?  Does she really want to be a single mom?  What about her life?  Who has the answers?  As a last resort she tries to pray but she’s never known how or to whom.  The play follows her hunt for help and understanding.

Through her search she confronts Frank, a ninety-year-old cancer patient, who may or may not be her father; she commiserates with Judi, a pre-op transsexual drag queen chanteuse.  She also has an affair with a recently embittered divorced man who can see his young son every other week.  There are others with whom she meets that either empathize with her or make things more confusing.

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The play is a series of vignettes detailing the confusion she is trying to solve.  Arguments from Frank, lack of consideration from her brother, a bitter cat, a smarmy clergyman trying to convert her, a website – newmommy.com – constantly hawking products “every new mother should have,” a condescending Skype message from a possible adoptive mother, and her self-involved lover offer her nothing but more consternation.  The only one with the insight and compassion to comfort and help her is Judi, the one who is outside society’s mainstream. Though the title of the play, How to Pray, would suggest a plethora of religious observations, that is not the case.  Faith is simply trying to learn how to pray without religious conversion.

Carter has instilled poignancy and humor throughout the work.  She has created characters that serve the intent of the play but are not fully-formed, but this doesn’t deter the messages she is projecting.  The dialogue sounds real coming from the mouths of her characters.  Though the first act is a bit slow unfolding the second act moves swiftly.

All the characters except for Faith are played by two actors: Steven Patterson is Frank, the Cat, Judi and the dog.  He is a strong presence who brings honesty to all his roles. Morgan Hooper is the brother, the lover, the newmommy.com salesman, a man at a dog park, the clergyman and a kid. Alexis, the Skype subject has been video-recorded by Roxanne Fay.  They all are credible in each of their roles and all of the roles are distinctly different.

Faith is onstage virtually every moment.  Without a strong actress the play would not work. Fortunately, director Sowle and the other two members of his cast have Ms. Slotoroff who has a strong and engaging stage presence.  In several monologues delivered directly to the audience we see, hear and empathize with her bewilderment.  She handles each scene with truthful emotions.

John Sowle, who directed and designed the show, has not allowed the cast to become maudlin or melodramatic.  The scenes are played and staged simply putting the emphasis on Carter’s words and intentions.  This is the director’s job and Sowle has done it perfectly. He has also created a multi-purpose set piece that rotates and rolls to provide basic settings and furniture for the many scenes in the play.  His light design also complements and enhances the visual picture.  Carmen Borgia has effectively designed the musical transitions, of which three are many, with much of the music written by Paul Bowles.  Michelle Rogers’ costumes suit the various characters and help to define their personalities.

Bridge Street Theatre has been in existence for four years and has built a reputation for presenting challenging plays, well-acted and well-directed.  They also present concerts and other theatre experiences.  For those who travel to the various far-flung theatres in the Berkshires, Bridge Street is well within traveling distance.  It is worth the time and the effort to get there… especially to see this show.

Bridge Street Theatre presents How to Pray by Michelle Carter; Directed by John Sowle; Cast: Susan Slotoroff (Faith) Steven Patterson (Frank, Cat, Judi, Dog) Morgan Hooper (Brother, Lover, newmommy.com, Man at Dog Park, Clergyman, Kid) Roxanne Fay (Alexis); Scene Designer: John Sowle; Costume design: Michelle Rogers; Sound design: Carmen Borgia; Stage Manager: Caedmon Holland; Running Time: two hours; one intermission; Bridge Street Theatre, 44 W. Bridge Street, Catskill, NY; From 9/14/2017 – 9/242017 http://bridgest.org/

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