owen_meany_2Is he really the Messiah?

A Prayer for Owen Meany, adapted from John Irving’s novel by Simon Bent. At the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (www.cyncyplay.com)  now through October 1, 2016.

Adapted from John Irving’s novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, now on stage at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, is an ambitious theatrical tale about faith, fidelity, friendship, fate and the perils of baseball.

Set in a dystopian small town America in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the play skewers American mores and manners, as the good and the bad of us all are coolly vivisected in this comic drama by English playwright Simon Bent. The play is sardonic, much of its dialogue foul-mouthed and many of its characters recognizable, even if the situations they are placed in are often the stuff of nightmares.

Playwright Bent, inspired by novelist Irving takes swipes at the Kennedy years, the Vietnam War, Catholicism and a host of other national and religious icons. Does it take an Englishman to debunk so much that was phony about small-town US of A in the hopeful 1950’s and the ensuing troubled 1960’s?  Those who read the novel may be able to vouch for the faithfulness of this adaptation to the original, but the story with its twists and turns and its back and forth changes of tone from farcical absurdity to tragic reality is there:  childhood bond becomes a lifelong friendship between two guys, the foursquare John and the…off-kilter Owen, born in a virgin birth in wedlock because his Mom and Dad did not “do it.”

The Playhouse in the Park production seems to still be finding itself (on opening night) with sluggish pacing and technical glitches, but as the show settles into its run, things will surely smooth out.

There’s much to like in this staging, above all the clear overall vision of director Blake Robison. James Kronzer’s dreamscape of a set transforms itself via minimal furniture and prop changes into interiors, basketball courts, cemeteries and a dozen other locales. Mark Barton’s lighting is spotlight-on and lights flatteringly David Kay Mickelsen’s period-perfect costumes. The terrific sound design by Matthew M. Nielson takes the audience on a walk down memory lane with 50’s and 60’s golden oldies.

The play rests squarely on the shoulders of Sean Mellott in the title role and Jeremy Webb as his lifelong friend. Both actors turn out very good performances that smoothly straddle comedy and tragedy. Mellott and Webb and a cast of fourteen other superb actors playing close to thirty named roles keep things moving through well over two hours plus of stage time.

Is Owen Meany, a geek with a funny falsetto for a voice a candidate for a Messianic Second Coming? Well…you’ll have to see the play.

Rafael de Acha



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