Prayers for the Undoing of Spells | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Performing Arts Review

Prayers for the Undoing of Spells


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe



Curious Theater Branch

at Organic Lab Theater

The management of the Organic Theater introduces Prayers for the Undoing of Spells as a "work in development" or "work-in-progress." But the Curious Theater Branch, the troupe performing Bryn Magnus's script on the Organic's Greenhouse stage, rejects that. "We make changes from week to week," says Beau O'Reilly, one of the Curious stalwarts and a leading character in the play. "But it's whole right now. It's complete."

Here's some free advice, Beau. Call it a work in progress, tell us you still haven't gotten all the glitches out. Otherwise Prayers wastes a great title on a mess.

Prayers offers a complex look at three haunted lives. It is often surreal and kind of manic. It's violent and graphic and definitely not for the weak of stomach. But what recommends it are solid performances and the company's willingness to try the unusual.

The best part--hands down--belongs to Peter Reinemann, who makes the most of it as an excitable dog. This is, by far, the most extraordinary dog played by a human I've ever seen. Reinemann yelps, barks, rolls over, and even fetches so convincingly that I started imagining a wagging tail.

Unfortunately, Reinemann's dog is just a supporting player. In the spotlight are three others: Jenny Magnus's lonely Linsey, who follows a strange woman all over town and dreams of being a splatter-flick queen; O'Reilly's Elwood, who is rudely awakened from death on the surgeon's table by some persistent and inexplicable spirits; and Reinemann's Dutch, a bumbling human pursuer on a mission from, well, purgatory--maybe.

By the final blackout, Linsey has stopped her stigmatalike nosebleeds. Elwood, whose guts are hanging out, finally keels over. And Dutch, who just wants a sponsor to get him through an alcohol-treatment program, is on his way to the library. Don't worry. I haven't given anything away. That's because Prayers wanders all over the map. It can't seem to decide what it wants to be. Sometimes it's funny; other times it borders on pathos. But more often than not, it's just plain jumbled. If Dutch were booted from the story, we wouldn't lose much. And if the romance between Elwood and Linsey were scrapped, it might actually open up the play to other more interesting possibilities.

The whole thing is structured to bring Linsey and Elwood together--Linsey who talks to ghosts, and Elwood who is, in a sense, a ghost. By the force of her imagination, Linsey can make almost anything happen. During a job interview, she says, she sees the interviewer reduced to a bloody pulp. It only happens in her mind, of course, but it happens. Elwood has a black thumb, and whatever, whomever he touches, dies. He can't figure out why. He's not even sure he believes it. Obviously, these two are a match made in hell, right?

Well, no. Jenny Magnus's Linsey, though sometimes grating (the singing--not the fault of Magnus's voice--has got to go), is genuinely likable. She's a 21-year-old adolescent, awkward but simmering with energy. She's a weirdo, but not an unattractive one. Even with bloody Kleenex hanging from her nostrils (a disturbing little bit that was overdone), Magnus is almost lovable.

But O'Reilly's Elwood just isn't up to par. He's not particularly quick or quirky, just bloody. He's not charming or warm. I realize the point of their attraction involves loneliness as an aphrodisiac, but when these two hug, it's about as exciting as two wet tissues. There's virtually no spark between them, which makes them wholly unconvincing.

Yet Jenny Magnus sparkles when she plays with Reinemann's dog. And when she brainstorms a bloodbath for a movie with a splatter king, she's both funny and vulnerable. Prayers can use more of the real feelings Magnus gives Linsey. I cared about her throughout the play. I just couldn't figure out what the hell she was doing in it.

Add a comment