Unspoken Prayers | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Unspoken Prayers

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Unspoken Prayers, Victory Gardens Theater. The death penalty has been getting a workout lately, notably in Mia McCullough's award-winning 2001 play Chagrin Falls and the more recent docudrama compiled by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, The Exonerated. Claudia Allen in her newest script--given a stilted and unfocused staging by Dennis Zacek--aims to combine the sort of intimate drama for which she's best known with a hard-hitting debate about vengeance versus justice and the role of class and race in doling out capital punishment.

Unfortunately the result is a static, emotionally hollow 90-minute exercise that feels like something rejected by the Lifetime network. As Billie, the grieving and conflicted mother of a murdered teenage girl, Taylor Miller shows flashes of charm, but the script doesn't provide a believable, coherent emotional arc for her or any of the other characters. Billie's husband, Frank (Rob Riley), is vehemently for the death penalty while one of their surviving daughters (Kim Wade) is opposed to it, but their arguments either way are well-worn, too familiar to make an impression. In a truly cringeworthy scene, while Billie and her husband argue over whether to urge the DA to seek death for the teenage boy who murdered their daughter, Frank dons full clown makeup to attend a rally for capital punishment. Why clown makeup? Who knows? But it's the perfect metaphor for a play about a traumatic issue handled with all the delicacy and depth of America's Most Wanted.

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