Tuesday, October 2, 2012

theatre review GRACE, Broadway, September 20

It's been a little over a week since we saw the new Broadway play Grace and I'm still confused as if I'm just not smart enough to understand exactly what point playwright Craig Wright was trying to make, if the points aren't clear enough or if Wright isn't actually trying to make a statement.  There are some really good performances and themes on display at the Cort Theatre so it's too bad that they don't all add up to something at least equal to the sum of their parts.  Or maybe I'm just not smart enough to get it.

"You can't go back" is a line or thought repeated throughout the play.  The four characters in Grace have all either had dramatic events happen to them in the past or are in the middle of them happening, so "going back," at least to a better time, is something they all probably wish they could do.  The fact that the first scene of the play as well as another pivotal one toward the end are played both forwards and backwards only touches upon that line.  And that first scene shows how three of the characters all end up dead with the rest of the play the events that led up to that fateful time.  So the play becomes an interesting character study as to how the characters get to that tragic end.

Paul Rudd is Steve, a fundamentalist Christian who has moved to Florida with his wife to open up what he hopes is the first in a chain of gospel themed hotels.  The theme of the hotels is "where would Jesus stay?"  It isn't his money that is being invested in the venture and the man who is investing isn't always easy to get in touch with and when weeks go by with no money coming through it only makes Steve more crazed as he sees his future literally collapsing in front of him.  Fortunately Steve has his faith and belief that this venture is what God would want that keeps him believing everything will work out ok.

Kate Arrington, Paul Rudd and Michael Shannon
 Michael Shannon is their neighbor Sam who has recently experienced a very tragic event, he was involved in a car accident that killed his girlfriend.  He has been scarred both physically and emotionally from the tragedy and the sudden death has made him into a non believer.  He is also a very smart person, a rocket scientist who works for NASA.  Steve's wife Sara, played by Kate Arrington, ends up befriending Sam since they are both home during the day with little to do.  Their friendship is an odd one at the start but soon evolves into one of many shared moments and emotional forth comings.

While Ed Asner is only in two scenes, his character, a pest exterminator named Karl who is working at the apartment complex, grew up in Germany and saw his share of tragedy as well.  The story he tells of a young Jewish woman who his family was hiding is riveting. 

Paul Rudd and Ed Asner

All four actors are giving well delivered performances.  There isn't one less so than the others and they all get turns at being comical as well as dramatic.  And while Rudd gets most of the humorous moments, especially sometimes a result of us laughing at the actions of the complete jerk of a character he is playing, he also has several dramatic ones too.  Shannon's first scene is a hilarious one where he is dealing with the tech support line for his computer program and getting bounced around and not liking the answers he is getting.  Later when he relives the horrific car accident that killed his girlfried, the theatre was silent as everyone was hanging on his every word.  While Arrington isn't given as many juicy moments to play as the others, she is in many ways the "witness" to the events that unfold around her and us and in that role balances the three other more volatile actors during the many confrontational moments and she does a fine job in doing so.  As I mentioned above, Asner is only in about 10 minutes of the play but he is hysterical and completely moving.

Dexter Bullard provides interesting direction throughout and the set design by Beowulf Boritt is especially inventive.  Since Steve and Sara and Sam live in two apartments in the same building, both which have the exact same floor plan, there is only one set that we see the three of them occupy, sometimes even simultaneously.  And while the apartment furniture is static it is set on a large revolving platform so during many key scenes the various characters will be seated at a table or on the couch but the set will slowly revolve so that we witness the events from various angels.

While the play is not exactly one that shows the struggle between good and evil, or one of faith and the verbal sparring between a believer and a non believer but more what happens between a man who believed he has lost everything and another who believed he has found the reason for his being.  How the reversal of those fates can quickly change is the thrust of the play.

Is it a black comedy or a tragedy?  It isn't a preachy play that grapples with faith or tries to be pro or con religion, though when most of the bad things happen to Rudd's character you have to believe that Wright is a little on the side of the non believer. 

Is Wright trying to say this is God's way or just the circumstances of misguided people, some of who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?  Obviously the term "fall from grace" comes to mind, especially with the upside down falling A in the artwork of the title to the show.  There are many themes tackled here - God's abandonment at a time of need, free will, science vs faith, the power of relying on your "beliefs" but again, I just didn't think they all came together to make the end result something meaningful.  Maybe the somewhat jarring and backwards played opening death scene is just so at odds with the more humorous moments that come later in the show that I think it might have actually worked better to have this scene play out in real time at the end of the play.  To me this would have been a complete shock and show just how far one can fall from "grace."

The show officially opens on Thursday.

Behind the scenes interviews:

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