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Theater review: 'Praying Small' at NoHo Arts Center

June 25, 2010 |  6:00 pm
300.PRAYINGSMALL-1 "Sobriety doesn't make life easier. It just makes livin' it easier."  Such candid truisms punctuate the self-circumscribed humor and grit of "Praying Small" with admirable determination. Clifford Morts' much-acclaimed 2003 study of one man's journey to recovery receives a respectable West Coast premiere at NoHo Arts Center.

A stylized prologue segues into Alcoholics Anonymous-birthday remarks by protagonist Sam Dean (author Morts, assaying the role for the first time). What follows is a boomeranging, nonlinear look at Sam's trek, from successful Manhattan yuppie status to rock bottom and back, repeatedly revisiting the key moment of regret when wife Susan (Tara Lynn Orr) finally had enough.

Director Victor Warren keeps his committed cast atop the zigzags around set designer Lacey Alzec's minimalist porticos and Coby Chasman-Beck's intense lighting plot. Morts' unfussy Everyman quality as Sam, pitched directly between the young Ed Asner and middle-period Bob Hoskins, counters a fleeting sense of authorial restraint. Orr is imposing as Susan, her emotional acumen most impressive given the fragmented structure.

Their colleagues do yeoman work in multiple roles, with Brad Blaisdell in particular a standout as Sam's quietly tough-loving sponsor. Rob Arbogast finds the raw humanity in downwardly spiraling fellow drunk Roman, while Melanie Ewbank's authority figures and Bonnie Cahoon's functionaries keep up with Morts' singular schematics.

It's an honest, laudably non-polemic piece for a niche play, at some levels beyond conventional criticism. Certainly, anyone who has struggled with its core issues, and/or those who love them, should consider "Praying Small" de rigeur

-- David C. Nichols

"Praying Small," NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 18. $25. (818) 508-7101. Running time:  2 hours, 10 minutes.

Photo: Tara Lynn Orr and Clifford Morts. Credit: Ali Atta Alsaleh