Is it possible to know one’s own fate? How might the conflicting forces of faith and doubt play out in life? What is the nature of friendship? These are some of the questions woven into Pacific Theatre’s current production of “A Prayer for Owen Meany”, adapted from Simon Bent from a novel by John Irving and directed by Ian Farthing.
An interesting set design prepares the audience for the complexity to follow. A basketball hoop and huge chair occupy one corner, a comfortable living room fills another section, while the residence of the Meany family is ensconced in the shadows.
The play begins with a quote, taken directly from the novel and spoken by Owen’s lifelong friend, John Wheelwright (Tariq Leslie): “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice. Not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God. I am a Christian because of Owen Meany”.
Owen (Chris Lam) is, indeed, a small person with a wrecked voice, but he is large in his beliefs and ability to express them. He believes unwaveringly in God, and that God speaks to him personally. Owen says he is “God’s instrument”, that he knows his mission and knows exactly when (and under what circumstances) he will die.
Owen’s insistence on speaking the truth as he sees it results in several humorous scenes. The night before John’s mother’s wedding, Owen tells John that she has “the best breasts in town”. Later, Owen is being interviewed by a number of adults attached to his school. His responses to their questions are forthright – and extremely entertaining to everyone except the officials questioning him. The attempts of the adults to do the casting for the annual Nativity play was almost slapstick in nature.
Through it all, John is by his side. The two support one another in a variety of ways, one of which is “the shot”, a complicated two person basketball maneuver which results in Owen’s sinking a basket. As is often the case in this play, “the shot” becomes pivotal later on.
The audience quickly becomes immersed in “Owen Meany”. Scenes change rapidly, intermingling the present and the future, the serious and lighter side of the characters’ lives, and the historical context in which it occurs. Many of the actors play more than one role, and all are very effective in each of them. The lighting is subtle, almost acting as a character itself as it highlights particular characters or scenes. The costumes are attention getters, perfect for their places in the action.
“A Prayer for Owen Meany” is well worth seeing and is playing at Pacific Theatre until February 9, 2019. For more information, visit: “pacifictheatre.org”.
Article: Judy Robb
Photography: Zemekiss Photography