Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Book of Grace

photo: Joan Marcus

Elizabeth Marvel is one of the few actors who I'll see in absolutely anything, and you always seems to rise above and deliver when saddled with poor material. Case in point: The Book of Grace, the new play by Pulitzer-winner Suzan-Lori Parks, which is currently receiving a premature world premiere at the Public Theater. Marvel is the titular heroine, a woman whose pursuit of knowledge stands in direct contrast with the wishes of her hard-driving husband (John Doman, appropriately terrifying), an officer in the Texas Border Patrol. When his long-estranged, bi-racial son from a previous marriage (Amari Cheatom) arrives to "forgive but not forget", the fraught atmosphere proves detrimental for Grace, her desire to better herself, and her burgeoning sexuality. Marvel is brilliant at capturing every facet of this complicated character, but Parks has done her a disservice by leaving entire chunks of exposition simply unexplored. It also doesn't help that Cheatom is grimly miscast as the family interloper; he's nowhere near as seething as he should be, and his attempts at anger feel more petulant than anything else. In the end, it's Marvel's show (as usual). Surrounded by text and fellow actors, she still manages to stand alone.

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