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According to Playmakers production notes, the play "bewitches with its spiritual optimism and heroic infusion of divine possibility. Owen Meany is, at heart, an examination of the true meaning of faith and the future of America."
A Prayer for Owen Meany - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The third act unfortunately devolves into a series of striking but ultimately hollow theatrical statements. Any three-hour play has to be fascinating to the end, and this one is not. Owen Meany loses audience interest during its home stretch, but it perks up to deliver the inevitable conclusion-for no-one could resist finding out how Owen’s story ends.
The essence of ''A Prayer for Owen Meany'' - he dies on the date foretold to him, but in a way totally unexpected (I can say that he dies because of the Vietnam War and because of what it did to the American temper) - is that though we cannot understand Owen Meany's life and death in ''ordinary,'' rational terms, we are expected to understand both as a miracle.
Our Presidents continue to pour the soothing syrup. But some of our most talented novelists see the political condition of American society as a disaster, the temper of many Americans as correspondingly dangerous. In ''A Prayer for Owen Meany'' John Irving makes it all too plain, and with positive rage, that in his eyes American society has been a moral disaster since the 1960's. He instances the America that snickered at President Kennedy's amours in the White House, the Vietnam War that sacrificed more than 58,000 of our young men, the moralizing and piety of national leaders who refuse to hinder the traffic in weapons of every kind, to say nothing of a widespread appetite for drugs and the ''junk food'' of television, which ''gives good disaster.''The narrator of ''A Prayer for Owen Meany'' is another John Wheelwright, also a descendant, but a good deal of a conscious and unapologetic wimp. Although he had half of his right forefinger amputated by Owen Meany so he could stay out of the Vietnam War (more about this later), out of disgust with his native land he emigrated to Toronto, where he teaches English literature in an Anglican academy for young ladies. (He has abandoned his ancestral Congregationalism for the Episcopal Church in America, the Anglican Church in Canada, and his constant companion is the Book of Common Prayer.) The book is as discursive as an undergraduate bull session, and the plot, simplicity itself, raises as many questions as stories of miracles usually do. Owen Meany, the little saint (the scene in which he is left hanging on a coat hook also suggests a ''Christ figure''), is unrecognized by all in the school town except his straight man and adoring disciple, the narrator John Wheelwright. Strange occurrences: Owen ''accidentally'' kills the narrator's mother (more about this later), and not only feels no guilt but manages to persuade the son that it was all foreseen (which means desired) by God. Since the narrator is illegitimate, her death seems necessary to our comprehending the inner perfection of a woman outwardly ''immoral.'' Strange occurrences: Owen foresees the exact day of his death as a martyr. His ''inside'' knowledge convinces him that he is God's messenger. Because he is so odd-looking and odd-sounding, he acts out the necessary paradox on earth suitable to men altogether holy within, though he can drink beer to excess and sleeps with the one girl in town unconventional enough to appreciate his stern disapproval of contemporary goings-on. Owen foresees everything in his life; in the startling climax he achieves martyrdom in the most exemplary way. But will this be really understood and appreciated by this damned generation?Desperate conditions invite desperate remedies. In ''A Prayer for Owen Meany'' this takes the form, originating in a town very like Exeter, N.H., and in a school that pleasantly caricatures the old regime at Phillips Exeter Academy, of sainthood - and perhaps something more than that? The center of the book is a little squirt who reminds me, at least, of Truman Capote (outwardly) and has a peculiarly faint voice to match. To be understood, he talks in what Mr. Irving represents as oversized capital letters. Part of his cuteness is that he even writes his diary in LETTERS BIGGER THAN THESE without ever deviating.I find it preposterous that John Wheelwright not only bears no grudge against the (accidental) killer of his mother but learns to reverence him because Owen is so sure that the death was foreseen, in God's hands. Does she have to die in order to make the point that there is a mystery to this our life that we have to accept if we are to believe in a providence? This may be true in general, but here in New Hampshire the point is so forced that it is repellent. And does Owen Meany ever believe, because his parents (in some confusion) told him, that his was a virgin birth? Is it really a proof of spiritual powers that Owen Meany, while acting in a school production of ''A Christmas Carol,'' should see on the stage tombstone the exact date not only of Scrooge's death but of his own? Does the corpse of a pet armadillo have to be deprived of its claws, as the Indian founder of the town is pictured without arms, in order to make the point that the world is besotted with weapons? This seems to be an argument not for peace but for impotence, as is the grisly episode, bearing still another symbol, in which John Wheelwright has half his right forefinger amputated by Owen Meany (with a saw used for cutting granite) in order to get him out of the Vietnam War. He gets to Canada anyway, so why not with a whole forefinger?John Wheelwright is a lifelong virgin because of his spiritual fascination with the tiny saint-hero, Owen Meany - who, interestingly, is not a virgin. And then there is the mystery of good in an evil world that lies at the heart of the novel: Owen Meany at the age of 11 killed Wheelwright's mother, a ''perfect'' woman he adored, when, at bat in a school baseball game, he managed for the first time in his life to get a ''decent hit'' - a foul ball. This foul smashed into the left temple of the dear woman as she strayed onto the field and turned around to wave to someone in the stands.''Jesus has always struck me as a perfect victim and a perfect hero,'' said John Irving, explaining the genesis of his seventh novel, ''A Prayer for Owen Meany.'' The story about a freakishly diminutive self-proclaimed prophet and his effect on the religious belief of his lifelong friend represents ''a natural progression'' for Mr. Irving.