Sometimes, a multimillionaire satanist magician can be the answer to one’s prayers.
The concept might not be realistic, but Jeffrey Limoncelli used it as a means to explore past sins and revenge. Limoncelli, a graduate playwriting student, will present “The Answer to Your Prayers” at the School of Theater, Film and Television’s New Play Festival. The play follows Zachary, an alumni outreach cold caller whose visitation rights with his daughter are at stake. But Zachary’s prayers for a solution are answered when a potential donor – a masked satanic magician named Crow – offers him all the money he needs on the condition that he flies to Las Vegas to meet with him.
“I was interested by the thought of a very serious donor who makes a very generous offer but with conditions of some sort,” Limoncelli said. “I wanted to focus it on the conflict of interest being just the two characters, the donor and the guy that picks up a phone.”
The deal backfires on Zachary, and the rest of the play deals with the consequences. Limoncelli didn’t want to present an ideological agenda through a central Catholic figure, so instead he aimed to present a more whimsical story through the idea of a satanic magician, he said.
After receiving an email from his Catholic high school, Limoncelli said he was amused by how different his life had become since attending a conservative East Coast school. Because of this contrast between his life as a child and his career as an adult, Limoncelli said the original plot for the play involved a school official being offered an excessive amount of money on the condition that they must take religion out of the curriculum. However, Limoncelli eventually decided not to go for an ideological play and instead transformed his original idea into a play that uses religion as a backdrop to explore a darker conflict between two people.
“The play doesn’t delve into the minutiae of Christianity and Satanism – it actually has nothing to do with that.” Limoncelli said. “It’s about if he can swallow his personal beliefs and safety to save his job and do the right thing.”
Oscar Revelins, the first-year theater student who plays Zachary, said the challenge of portraying Zachary is in dissecting the character’s possible history. In the end, he found Zachary is someone who is simply trying to make up for the past and trying to justify the mistakes he has made as a bully in high school. He is trying to be a good Catholic man, but his mistakes keep coming back to haunt him, Revelins said.
“Zachary and (Crow) have an entire history that shakes him to his core,” Revelins said. “Zachary is forced to confront all the things he thought he left behind.”
The human issues at the core of a very eccentric play are also what fascinated Frank Demma, the second-year theater student who plays Crow. Getting in the head of a character that manipulates another for their own gain was particularly challenging, Demma said, but it helped that Crow is essentially an actor himself. Spending rehearsals fanning out cards, Demma said he found a way to relate to the character’s performative personality.
Each task Crow performs to manipulate Zachary corresponds to something terrible Zachary did back in high school, Revelins said. As the play goes on, it becomes less about Zachary keeping his job, or even about religion, and more about facing the mistakes he made as a kid, he said. Zachary is a character who can alter the audience’s perception when he is revealed as someone with many secrets, making them rethink the accuracy of first impressions, he said. Revelins said he hopes that when audiences come to see the play, they are able to grasp the idea that people are not always as they seem at first glance. Along those lines, Demma hopes that while the audience enjoys the show they can also realize this is a play that deals with issues at the heart of emotional and physical manipulation.
“It’s a good pulpy piece of theatre,” Demma said. “It’s meant to be enjoyed; that’s the primary function, and it does not hide from that fact behind any ideological agenda.”