Praying Small | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Praying Small 

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Praying Small, Actors Workshop Theatre. AWT inaugurates its new space with the world premiere of company member Clifford Morts's funny, touching play. Thirtysomething Sam Dean (Tommy Lee Johnston) struggles for sobriety, addressing the harsh realities of addiction with humor. His difficulties are mirrored by the hard knocks the company has suffered: the violent death of an ensemble member, Morts's painful withdrawal from the production (the material is semiautobiographical), and the sudden departure of a lead actor. These ordeals give extra resonance to the words of Sam's AA sponsor, who says, "Sobriety doesn't make life easier, it just makes livin' it easier."

Hyperliterate Sam meets wife Susan (Marisa Sanders) in New York. For a while love is his drug of choice, but eventually he needs more. He doesn't seem to drink and drive but can't tell Susan where he's abandoned the car she needs to get to work. He loses his six-figure job because he's only available in the posthangover, premartini interval of 11 AM to noon. He hits bottom when he's busted with cocaine, becoming vulnerable to police who are stupid with power. Johnny Garcia is incongruously funny as a Snidely Whiplash-style bad cop. Jamie Kelsey is tragic and painfully recognizable as Sam's coworker and drinking buddy Roman, who punctuates conversations with the exclamation "Shit the bed!" and falls even further and faster than Sam. And Patrick Galiardi is outstanding as Greg, Sam's AA sponsor, a genial southern practitioner of tough love.

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