OF LOVE AND RECOVERY
"Sobriety doesn't make life easier, it makes livin' it easier." Such candid truisms punctuate the self-circumscribed humor and grit of "Praying Small" with admirable determination. Clifford Morts' much-acclaimed 2003 study of one man's journey to recovery receives a respectable West Coast Premiere at NoHo Arts center.
A stylized prologue segues into Alcoholics Anonymous-birthday remarks by protagonist Sam Dean (author Morts, essaying the role for the first time). What follows is a boomeranging, nonlinear look at Sam's trek, from successful Manhattan yuppie status to rock bottom and back, repeatedly revisiting the key moment of regret when wife Susan (Tara Lynn Orr) finally had enough.
Director Victor Warren keeps his committed cast atop the zigzags around set designer Lacy Alzec's minimalist porticos and Coby Chasman-Beck's intense lighting plot. Morts' unfussy Everyman quality, pitched directly between the young Ed Asner and middle-period Bob Hoskins, counters a fleeting sense of authorial restraint. Orr is imposing as Susan, her emotional acumen most impressive the given fragmented structure.
Their colleagues do yeoman work in multiple roles, wwith Brad Blaisdell in particular a standout as Sam's quietly tough-loving sponsor. Rob Arbogast finds raw humanity in downwardly spiraling fellow drunk Roman, while Melanie Ewbank's authority figures and Bonnie Cahoon's functionaries keep up with Morts' singular schematics.
It's an honest, laudably non-polemic piece for a niche play, at some levels beyond conventional criticism. Certainly, anyone who has struggled with its core issues, and/or those love them, should consider "Praying Small" de rigeur.
David C. Nichols