Nearly everyone can relate to a dysfunctional family. I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard, a play written by Halley Feiffer and directed by GableStage’s producing artistic director, Joseph Adler, explores the consequences of an emotionally abusive relationship between an actress daughter and her playwright father. The play, which stars Rebecca Behrens and Tom Aulino, will have its Southeastern premiere at GableStage at the Biltmore this Saturday.
“I’ve wanted to produce this play since I first saw it a couple years ago. It had a profound impact on me of any play I’ve seen in the last five years. It hit me viscerally,” Adler says. “When I saw it, I couldn’t even applaud. I sat in my seat when it ended for what seemed like an eternity before I even acknowledged the actors. When a play has that type of impact on me, I know it’s something I want to do... I’ve always favored doing plays going with gut impact.”
I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard had its world premiere in 2015 in New York City. The story begins as struggling actress Ella waits with her renowned playwright father, David, in the kitchen of an apartment for the reviews of her off-Broadway debut performance in the classic Chekhov play The Seagull. Written by Halley Feiffer, the daughter of satirical cartoonist and playwright Jules Feiffer and an actress herself, the play has been rumored to be drawn from personal experience, though she hasn’t commented on whether the story is autobiographical.
Adler says that anyone can relate to the tumultuous family dynamic. “It’s about a father and daughter, parents and children... The ramifications of this relationship, which is very difficult at best, on his daughter are so serious, but there is not any one of us who have children or have parented who cannot relate to any of the circumstances. It’s painful and important,” says Adler, who has a son.
“It’s an abusive relationship, but not physically abusive. It shows an emotionally abusive relationship and the consequences: what it does to someone and how difficult it can make it to have a moment when you come together, which everyone hopes will happen. We become estranged, but we hope there is a moment of forgiveness.”
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Like many of GableStage's productions, I'm Gonna Pray for You So Hard feels timely, as women such as Arrested Development actor Jessica Walter share their stories of emotionally abusive relationships with men. But Adler says his choice of play was apolitical. “I would love to say that, but I didn’t pick the play because of the current political scene,” he says.
“[I chose the play because] I could not get it out of my head for days. It has stayed with me. I want [the audience] to come out of the theater emotionally so connected to what took place that it stays in their heads. I’ll never forget the impression it’s had on me. I feel it every time I read it and during every rehearsal. It hits me like a ton of bricks. It makes me laugh; it makes me cry. Some scenes are like a kick in the stomach. That’s the kind of theater I like... I want the audience to feel the way I felt when I saw it.”
I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard. Saturday, June 9, through July 8 at GableStage at the Biltmore, 1200 Anastasia Ave., #230, Coral Gables; gablestage.org. Regular adult tickets cost $60.