Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Praying Small

at the Noho Arts Center

Reviewed by Neal Weaver
JULY 07, 2010
Clifford Morts' drama seems at first to be just another routine entry in the current crop of plays about alcoholism and the importance of Alcoholics Anonymous, but writer-actor Morts is literate, intelligent, and quirky enough to prevent his work from sinking into the merely generic.

Sam (Morts) is the worst kind of drunk. He drinks his way out of his job, he goes drinking and loses the family car, he can't take criticism and lashes out at anyone who attempts to talk sense into him. His marriage seems to be a genuine love match, but he constantly taxes the patience of his wife, Susan (Tara Lynn Orr), and the loss of the car is the last straw for her. She throws him out and changes the locks. In a drunken rage, he attempts to smash in the door, and when the cops are called, he resists arrest and finds himself in deep legal troubles. This and the early death of drinking buddy Roman (Rob Arbogast) finally drive him to admit he needs help. But he's initially resistant to the tenets of A.A. because of their reliance on God; Sam has his problems with the Almighty. But when Sam is taken on by a tough, sharp, perceptive sponsor, Greg (Brad Blaisdell), Sam can finally allow himself to get the help he needs.

Morts' Sam is a complex man, witty, smart, and educated; and his initial courtship of Susan is dense with cultural and pop-cultural references. We can take him seriously because he questions his actions at every step of the way and refuses to settle for easy answers. Orr neatly captures Susan's charm in the early scenes and her growing desperation as her situation worsens. Arbogast is totally convincing as the unregenerate, self-destructive Roman. And Blaisdell finds the strength, perception, and weaknesses of the clear-eyed Greg. Melanie Ewbank and Bonnie Cahoon provide fine support in multiple roles, and director Victor Warren reveals an eye for emotional nuance, drawing fine performances from his cast. 

Presented by and at the NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
June 11–July 18. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (818) 508-7101, ext. 7.

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