In setting the centerpiece scene of his play Prayer For My Enemy (at Playwrights Horizons) against the eighth and ninth innings of a televised baseball game, Craig Lucas has given himself a challenge: his actors, and his drama, must compete against the dulcet tones of Joe Buck issuing from the onstage TV. For the most part, the actors are up to it, even if Lucas’s play, like playoff baseball, alternates moments of high excitement with stretches of tedium.
Austin Noone (played by Skip Sudduth), recovering alcoholic, volatile Vietnam vet, and passionate Yankees fan, is watching the game with his family, and if you know baseball, you need only to hear that he’s watching Game Six of the 2004 playoff series with the Red Sox to know that things are going to get messy. (For the sports-illiterate: 2004 was the year the Yankees choked away a three-game lead in the ALCS to the hated Sox, who went on to break their World Series curse after 86 years.) And things do get messy, in part because Lucas has his characters speak their innermost thoughts directly to the audience in the middle of scenes. It doesn’t quite work from a theatrical perspective – it’s confusing and saps the play of all subtext by making it plain old text – but at least it’s fun for his capable cast, who take great delight in delivering a constant stream of withering put-downs in asides, like a whole stage full of Shakespearean fools.
Though the play features Tony favorites like Victoria Clark (The Light in the Piazza) and Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening), Prayer For My Enemy might best be remembered as the show with which relative newcomer Cassie Beck launched her career sky-high. Tart, sarcastic, and winsome all at once, her performance as Austin’s pregnant daughter Marianne is a marvel, making this contradictory character – smart and pretty, but stuck in a rut -- seem as real, and as surprising, as your high-school crush at the ten-year reunion.