Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

A Prayer for Owen Meany

Ian Kahn and Matthew Detmer
The production of A Prayer for Owen Meany now at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, MD, starts slowly, but builds inexorably to a vividly powerful conclusion. While this is an epic work, running two and three-quarter hours with two intermissions, it never becomes a stodgy one, brightened as it is with moments of whimsy, fury and intense beauty.

The wide, deep, almost cavernous Round House stage is a fitting arena for Simon Bent's theatrical reimagining of John Irving's 1989 novel. The story is a meditation on the nature of faith and fate, which avoids heaviness through Blake Robison's sensitive direction and James Kronzer's deceptively simple set.

The play follows the friendship of Owen Meany (Matthew Detmer), a stunted boy with a shrill, "wrecked" voice, and John Wheelwright (Ian Kahn), son of a beautiful unmarried mother (Gia Mora), from their childhood in a small New Hampshire town in the late 1940s until Owen finds his destiny during the Vietnam War. As in the novel, John recounts the story from the perspective of his later life in Toronto.

Detmer gives a magnificently detailed performance as Owen, a boy who believes he is God's instrument, who knows the date and manner of his death years before it occurs: maddeningly sure of himself, sometimes fearful, but always accepting of his future. With his bright yellow hair and big jug ears, his voice a sometimes grating falsetto, he embodies the character without ever letting the stress of characterization become obvious. Even the illusion of Owen's small stature becomes visible through the magic of theater, assisted by aerial sequences created by Paul Rubin.

Kahn brings a pleasing everyman quality to John, who serves as the audience's surrogate. Where Owen has a serene, precocious confidence in his own judgment, John is skeptical and strains to make sense of life. As John's youthful mother, Mora glows with vibrant health; it's easy to see why all the men she meets fall in love with her.

The visual images of Kronzer's scenic design work with a kind of dream logic: a lighted, three-dimensional house appears to float among clouds; trap doors in the stage lead to a bottomless swimming hole; granite dust sprinkles down onto Owen's embittered stonecutter father (Lawrence Redmond) and lugubrious mother (Kimberly Schraf), posed like a grim parody of "American Gothic."

Kate Turner-Walker's costumes also help to create the characters. While Stephen F. Schmidt and Kathryn Kelley give hilarious performances as the self-absorbed Rector Wiggins and his opinionated wife Barb, the visual impact of their coordinated clothes —his vest is made of the same fabric as her jumper —tells viewers all they need to know about these people.

Round House Theatre
A Prayer for Owen Meany
September 13th —October 8th
A novel by John Irving, adapted by Simon Bent
Owen Meany: Matthew Detmer
John Wheelwright: Ian Kahn
Tabitha Wheelwright: Gia Mora
Harriet Wheelwright: Ilona Dulaski
Dan Needham: Carl Randolph
Mr. Meany: Lawrence Redmond
Mrs. Meany: Kimberly Schraf
Reverend Merrill: John Lescault
Lydia, Sam White: Laura Giannarelli
Rector Wiggins, Coach Chickering, Randy White, Major Rawls: Stephen F. Schmidt
Barb Wiggins, Mitzy Lish, Jarvit Mother: Kathryn Kelley
Angel of Death, Mr. Fish, Chief Pike, Dr. Dolder, Jarvit Father: Michael Kramer
Harold Crosby, Larry Lish, Jarvit Boy: Sasha Olinick
MaryBeth, Jarvit Daughter: Tiffany Fillmore
Boy: James Gardiner
Girl: Betsy Rosen
Members of the cast also appear as nuns, school kids, townsfolk, and Lenny Bruce
Directed by Blake Robison
4545 East-West Highway
Bethesda, MD
Ticket Information: 240-644-1100 or

-- Susan Berlin

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.

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