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Separation Anxiety 

Firehouse Theatre’s “A Single Prayer” mines divorce.

click to enlarge Ed Whitacre and Madison Hatfield (as Clem) in the family drama, "A Single Prayer," which runs April 20 through May 8 at the Firehouse Theatre.

Bill Sigafoos

Ed Whitacre and Madison Hatfield (as Clem) in the family drama, "A Single Prayer," which runs April 20 through May 8 at the Firehouse Theatre.

A little over two years ago, K. Jenkins’ new play “A Single Prayer” was all set to premiere at the Firehouse Theatre. Then, the pandemic struck.

“It never really had the light of day,” says Mark J. Lerman, the director of the show and Jenkins’ husband. “It never had a first experience with an audience. We were really ready for that audience two years ago.”

Before long, the cast and crew regrouped, first on Zoom, then in person with masks on. Of the original seven cast members, five stayed on; the other two had to leave the show because of time commitments. Now, “A Single Prayer” is finally ready for its debut at the Firehouse.

While the play still centers on Clem, a 17-year-old who feels trapped while trying to solve a rift in her family, some elements of the show have morphed in the intervening two years.

“It radically changed the production on some level,” says Lerman of the pandemic. “Because it’s a memory play, it changed how the central character interacted with these memories. It’s a little starker. It’s a little less opulent than it was two years ago.”

The child of divorced parents, Clem is stuck in the middle when her stepmother starts some drama with her mother, turning Clem’s world on its head.

“There’s a pretty gnarly event that happens, and no one will tell Clem the truth. She’s kind of being gaslit by her whole family,” says Madison Hatfield, who plays Clem. “[Clem is] forced to question every single adult in her life and go, ‘Is this truthful?’”

Hatfield joined the cast in June 2020 and has been involved with the production since.

“It’s been a really wonderful process, because we got to spend so much time with the text,” she says. “We’ve all had the material for so long and got to watch it morph and breathe.”

Jenkins, an ethnographer and sociologist of religion and family who teaches at the College of William and Mary, drew inspiration from a book she wrote about divorce and how people use religion to cope in its aftermath. As a child of divorce who also went through her own divorce as an adult, Jenkins says these life events helped inform the play.

“It’s about a young woman caught in the middle of divorced parents and all of the kinds of confusion and absurdities that can happen in those situations,” explains Jenkins, who recently published another book about how families connect by hiking the Camino de Santiago. “It’s about memories of disruption and how we can make sense of memories, and what it means to heal and move on.”

Clem is assisted in her journey by her classmate Michael. Played by Adam Turck, Michael has angel-like qualities, including the ability to fly.

“He helps guide her through this process,” Hatfield says. “He is her muse, in a way.”

Overall, Jenkins says the show is about how “connection and healing and relationships are of the utmost importance.”

While noting that many theaters and performers transitioned to creating digital works in the pandemic, Lerman says there’s nothing quite like the appeal of a live show like “A Single Prayer.”

“There’s a lot of interesting work going on in the world, but when all is said and done, there’s nothing like that live experience of a performance,” he says. “Music, theater, dance: you can appreciate it on a screen, but it’s a different world when it’s live and in person, especially in a small intimate space like Firehouse. You’re just so close, and I think that changes your experience.”

“A Single Prayer,” plays April 20-May 8 at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St., 23220. For more information, visit firehousetheatre.org or call (804) 355-2001.

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