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Interview: Adrian Lukis & Jill Winternitz,’I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard'(Finborough Theatre)

Adrian Lukis

Adrian Lukis

Halley Feiffer’s black comedy, ‘I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard’ has received its UK premiere at the Finborough. Feiffer’s play is about an actress who wants to make her famous playwright father proud. Jill Winternitz and Adrian Lukis are the cast members – playing the dysfunctional father and daughter.

I thought it would be nice to catch up with Adrian and Jill to see exactly what’s happening. And I was right – it was very nice indeed.

Here is our chat.

Why should we come along to see ‘I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard’?
The play should be seen because it is an extraordinary piece of writing. It deals with the anxieties and hopes of the ‘artist’, the sheer difficulty of facing down the opinions of others and surviving in an often hostile world, not only as actors and writers but as people.
The Finborough Theatre is quite nice isn’t it. 
The Finborough is a small intimate theatre. It is alarming to look up and see the audience sitting three feet away, but that too is the strength of the space. There is nowhere to hide!
What’s the play about?
What’s the play about? It’s about how to survive as an artist and also how to survive as a human being. How much do we allow ourselves to be affected by the judgement of others? David chooses survival by force, by belittling the critics, by powering through and believing in his own genius. Of course, he is vulnerable to those critics but the question is, how to deal with that.
We, as actors, are particularly familiar with this dilemma. We are dependent to some extent on the praise and good opinion of others while at the same time being aware that we still have to have the balls to do the play despite the reviews!
The play is quite blistering in the way it examines the dynamic of a father-daughter relationship. 
David has got by on furious egotism, coming from a severely fractured childhood and a bullying, abusive father. But there is a price. He makes huge demands on his daughter to ‘man up’ as he has done and when she fails, he loses all respect for her. The sins of the father are passed on to the next generation.

As a creative person, if you have had your sights set on something and then you get there, can it be dangerous?
If you work your balls off to serve a play and render up as true and engaging a performance as you can and you succeed, then that is about as good as it gets. Of course you want to feel that you have honestly and successfully portrayed the character. The danger for actors and for all of us in life, is that we depend on the kind words of others for our self esteem and that is dangerous, because we put ourselves in the hands of other people (and other people do not always have our best interests at heart!

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Jill Winternitz

Jill Winternitz

How was the rehearsal process? 
I love rehearsing as I find it such a free and creative time.  Working on a two-hander meant that there were only a few of us in the room everyday.  We really bonded, experiencing so much together in a relatively short space of time.  It’s been a joy to work with Jake Smith as he has an amazing instinct for story and nuance.  It’s also worth noting that we rehearsed above a coffee roastery, which was pure aromatic bliss.

You played Baby in ‘Dirty Dancing’, how different is this role? 
My gut reaction to this question is that they couldn’t be further apart.  But on second thought, both Baby and Ella have complex relationships with their fathers and both strive to make them proud, whilst also trying to assert their own voice and be independent people in their own right.  Stylistically though, it goes without saying, that they are very different roles with very different requirements for me as the actor.  Though I suppose I could ask Adrian if he fancies adding in ‘The Lift’ during our bows… 😉

Your character, Ella is a ‘precocious and fiercely competitive actress’. Was it hard to get into character? Definitely not.  In many ways, this play feels uncannily close to home which is why I am so passionate about doing it.

What is your best advice for auditions?
The advice I give myself is: prepare, prepare, prepare, then throw away your preparation, open your heart, and enjoy the moment.  When you’re in the room, that is your chance to play the character.  Relish it.  And if more chances come to play that character again, fantastic!  If not, at least you threw yourself into it when you had the opportunity.

What do you hope your audiences take away from this show?
I hope our audiences will enjoy the brilliance of Halley Feiffer- a bright, brave, thrilling voice of theatre today.  I hope we can give them a funny, moving, and thought-provoking evening.

‘I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard’ runs at the Finborough Theatre from 2 to 25 March, with previews from 28 February.

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