The Maiden’s Prayer: They flip through partners like frantic shoppers at Nordy’s.
  • The Maiden’s Prayer: They flip through partners like frantic shoppers at Nordy’s.
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Andrew, a gay character in Nicky Silver’s Maiden’s Prayer, says he looks for three things in a man: the size of his Manhattan apartment, if he has cable, and external beauty. Then he pauses, sensing the audience expects much more in a relationship. “Frankly,” he adds, having read our minds, “I think inner beauty is a little too much to hope for” these days.

In the 1990s, Nicky Silver blazed through the theater scene with one of the sharpest wits of the times: Fat Men in Skirts, The Food Chain, Raised in Captivity, The Agony and the Agony, and a handful of others created a body of work pundits labeled “dark farce.” Silver writes of hearts rebroken, of what happens after the shards get smashed again. His people aren’t doing well, the word “dysfunction” being a must for reviewers. But the bedraggled who survive manage it with spirit, if not lessons learned.

Maiden’s Prayer feels like a deliberate departure from Silver’s signature work: break the expected pattern, get outside his givens. But to make the move, he tacked the play onto Chekhov’s Three Sisters, and there are roughly parallel characters. But the hybrid doesn’t take. The spin-off tailspins, and though the play can boast flashes of brilliance — this is Nicky Silver, after all — the whole tends to weigh down the parts.

Taylor, a recovering alcoholic, says people fall in love with an image of the beloved, not the actual person. He also admits that “you get used to things, and things become your life.”

He’s marrying Cynthia, a control freak whose pregnancy’s starting to show beneath her white wedding dress. The reception drives Cynthia’s sister Libby out the door. Paul’s already in the backyard. Both have been in love with Taylor — deeply, fixatedly, for years. Libby, who swills champagne like Gatorade, is one of Nicky Silver’s loosest cannons. Paul, who ranks among the most supportive characters in theater history, is one of his sanest.

By Act Two, as if through a looking glass, the playwright turns things upside down: Libby, now a high-class call girl, gives her heretofore detested sister pointers in the trade. Taylor’s off the wagon and contemplating his revolver. The only constants are Paul, who may have even more sexual encounters than Libby, and Andrew, whose monologues become a litany of diminishing hopes.

In The Three Sisters, the Prozorov women dream of an idealized Moscow so much it paralyzes them. For Paul and Libby, Taylor is their Moscow. They’ve been stuck on him — or their image of him — and have stunted their lives. They flip through sexual partners like frantic shoppers at a Nordy’s sale but see only Taylor.

It’s hard to say if it’s the play or Triad Productions’ staging that’s so bifurcated. Most likely both. Serious events happen: a divorce; death of an infant; suicides contemplated. Ever eager to lighten the load, however, Silver wraps pain and tragedy with a comic ribbon. The result: the comedic and the bizarre cartoon the drama and trump Chekhov.

It would help if Cynthia and Taylor’s scenes were stronger.

Samantha Ginn and Jason Perkins come off as generic types, their squabbles also generic. Some of that’s in the writing. Silver obviously wants Taylor to be dull and self-centered and not the ideal others see. But to emphasize the point, Perkins gives bland readings a tad slower than the others. Ginn could sharpen Cynthia’s knives.

Rhianna Basore has a lark as Libby, the self-destructive survivor. As written, Libby’s a sprawl, but Basore deftly fuses hilarity and hurt. Nathan Caracter, new to San Diego, does an impressive turn as loyal Paul. And James P. Darvas makes Andrew’s frequent monologues so funny that they detract from the more somber scenes.

If you’ve ever seen Diversionary Theatre’s stage when it’s empty, you’d appreciate what designer Jocelyn Parenteau has done. Without cramping anything, she has a backyard (stage right), the interior of an apartment (stage left), and a slender tree trunk splitting the difference. Josh Hyatt’s apt costumes also reflect the quick change from Manhattan to the suburbs. ■

The Maiden’s Prayer, by Nicky Silver
Triad Productions, Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights
Directed by Adam Parker; cast: Nathan Caracter, Rhianna Basore, Samantha Ginn, Jason Perkins, James P. Darvas; scenic design, Jocelyn Parenteau; costumes, Josh Hyatt; lighting, Austin Meyer; sound, Matt Lescault-Wood
Playing through January 23: Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Sunday at 5:00 p.m. 619-220-0097

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