Review: ‘Prayer for the French Republic’ Arrives Right on Time

L-R: Nancy Robinette, Daniel Oreskes, Richard Masur, Ari Brand, Ethan Haberfield. | Photo © Jeremy Daniel, 2023

BY MICHAEL MUSTO | The Broadway transfer of the award-winning Off-Broadway play Prayer for the French Republic could not be more timely. As written by Joshua Harmon (Bad Jews, Significant Other), it concerns various clashes within a Jewish family

in France in 2016-17 as nerves fray due to the latest rise of antisemitism. Arriving at a time when an inelegantly expressed opinion on the Israel-Palestine conflict could get you canceled, the play spans every possible response to discrimination and terrorism against Jews, ending with a meditation on the absurd reasons the haters hate at all. (“They hate us for controlling everything,” asserts one character, “which is confusing, ‘cause they’ve been pretty successful at killing us the last two thousand years.”)

The play has American student Molly (Molly Ranson) visiting her psychiatrist/department head aunt, Marcelle Salomon Benhamou (Betsy Aidem), a slightly condescending control freak and traditionalist who’s understandably alarmed by the spike in anti-Jewish attacks in France and feels discretion may be the key to staying safer. Abetted by the atmospherically shadowy lighting by Amith Chandrashaker, Takeshi Kata’s set rotates to reveal the same family’s ancestors in 1944-46, taking us past the lingering horrors of the war. (The Salomon family has sold pianos for a living for five generations, a diminishing art as the urge for high culture wanes. Aptly, cathartic musical interludes pervade the show, from Marcelle’s bloodied son singing a shirtless love song to the American girl to the wounded ensemble version of La Marseillaise at the climax.)

L to R: Betsy Aidem as Marcelle and Molly Ranson as Molly. | Photo © Jeremy Daniel, 2023

Like last season’s Best Play, Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, Prayer for the French Republic spans various decades in the life of a sprawling European family to mirror the shifting reactions to mounting bigotry. Another recurring theme in both plays is the importance of writing down every tragic thing that happens, for the sake of documentation, though Prayer for the French Republic contends that people still choose to ignore history, perhaps on purpose. (“Even when you write it down, they forget! …Or maybe they need to forget, just to put one foot in front of the other.”)

Coincidences don’t end there. Like the current musical Harmony—by Bruce Sussman and Barry Manilow—this play involves narration by a current character (in this case by Marcelle’s wryly testy brother, played by Anthony Edwards). Both shows also touch on the importance of sensing when it’s time to run away to somewhere less oppressive, while never certain that things will be any better where you end up.

At over three hours, the ambitious play bites off a lot to chew on and it isn’t always as profound as it seems to think it is, with occasional obviousness and repetition. A breathless monologue by Marcelle’s know-it-all daughter, Elodie (Francis Benhamou), seems heavy-handed as it plows through political topics with glib insistence. But the intricacies win out, and by Act Three the tone becomes confident, the threads tie together, and Harmon–along with Tony Award-winning director David Cromer (The Band’s Visit)—hits his stride.

L to R: Richard Masur as Pierre and Aria Shahghasemi as Daniel. | Photo © Jeremy Daniel, 2023

In a good cast, a standout is Betsy Aidem, who nails Marcelle’s mounting panic and fluttery desperation to control a losing game. (Last year, she was Grandma Emilia in Leopoldstadt.) Also effective is Nancy Robinette as grandma Irma, who magically manages to add a bit of narration as she’s dying. The fact that Irma didn’t die as a result of the Holocaust, she points out, is a bittersweet cause for rejoicing. As she puts it, “Even I know, there is no sweeter revenge than an old Jew lying in some forgotten graveyard in Europe with a tombstone dated 1946. Fuck. You.”

At Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street). For tickets, visit or call 212-239-6200. To join MTC’s season of plays as a Subscriber or a Patron, call the MTC Clubline at 212-399-3050 or go to To sign up for MTC’s “30 Under 35” program, offering $30 tickets for theatregoers age 35 and under, visit


Photo of Michael Musto by Andrew Werner.

Michael Musto is a columnist, pop cultural and political pundit, NYC nightlife chronicler, author, and the go-to gossip responsible for the long-running (1984-2013) Village Voice column, “La Dolce Musto.” His work appears on this website as well as and, and he is writing for the new Village Voice, which made its debut in April of 2021. Follow Musto on Instagram, via @michaelmusto.



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