Although seemingly a tortured treatise on reconciling faith and forgiveness, From Prague by Kyle Bradstreet actually comes off more as a travelogue about the charms of Czechoslovakia.
Prague, with its magical bridges and cathedrals and plentiful bars, seems a far better place than the Long Island purgatory a family finds themselves in.
Charles (Andy Bean) is a hard-drinking soul torn to pieces over the recent death of his mother, trying to keep it together despite having never forgiven his father Samuel (John Lescault) for abandoning the family to run off and commit suicide in Prague some years earlier.
His way of coping, other than the bottle, is to dedicate himself to memorizing Bible verses. This show of faith is really just that, a show, and does not help him comfort his younger brother Ernie or reconcile with his estranged brother Geoff, who has arrived for the funeral from Prague with his girlfriend Anna (Julianna Zinkel).
Charles clings to his religion, believing it gives him a voice to express his confusion and suffering, while his life collapses around him. He is driven to tell his story about his mother and father’s deaths and the brief times long ago when the family was intact and content. Charles’ story is interspersed with that of Samuel, who wanders in from the afterlife to chin-wag about being an arrogant professorial type engulfed in his own ego and needs. Anna also offers her version of events, a cool and dispassionate voice amid the family’s fetid dysfunction.
From Prague interweaves the three monologues to give a rounded picture of pain past and present. The deep melancholy of the piece is reflected in Margaret McKowen’s set that combines a gentle sprinkle of snow on stone with an evocation of the Christ statue on Prague’s Charles Bridge. This hushed, meditative mood is heightened by moments in the interlapping monologues, such as Charles’ frankly beautiful diatribe on the meaning of silence and how so much longing and ache can be packed between the first and final letters of that one, simple word.
For the most part, the play is overly laden with exposition that piles up like drifts of snow, threatening to cover up the characters and any attempt at emotion or bonding. Charles, Samuel and Anna just seem to blather on and on self indulgently about whatever crosses their minds and you don’t know whether they all need a therapist, a 12-step program, or a good editor. The writing swings between religious pedagogy and stream of consciousness and throwing in a goodly amount of cussing seems jarring and attention-grabbing rather than organic to the firmly reflective and meditative tone of the play.
To make this even more trying, amid the acres of verbiage you encounter connections between the characters that strain credulity. How many of the characters end up in Prague is enough of a stretch, but then Anna’s part in the story gives you one of those head-scratching, “who woulda thunk it?” reactions. Are Long Island and Prague so sparse of human bodies that one young woman could play such major roles in the lives of each member of the family on both sides of the globe? Now that’s influence.
The actors dedicate themselves admirably to the roles, particularly Mr. Lescault as the conflicted and eternally justifying Samuel. Strong acting cannot save From Prague from its prattle and its meandering structure that has the characters talking in circles and rarely saying anything worth repeating.
Playing in repertory at the Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepardstown, WVA through July 31.
by Kyle Overstreet
Directed by Ed Herendeen
Produced by the Contemporary American Theater Festival
Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Running time: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission