Wednesday, October 10, 2012


There is a tremendous amount of talent on display at Craig Wright's play Grace at the Cort Theatre.  Michael Shannon continues his run of brilliant performances, subtly yet vividly limning the pain and tentative hope of a physically and emotionally damaged man. Paul Rudd brings energy and compassion to a man who wields his God like sledgehammer, ever trying to beat belief into nonbelievers. Director Dexter Bullard provides clear direction and good pacing. Beowulf Boritt (scenic design), David Weiner (lighting design), and Darron L. West (sound design) provide an impressive (and attractive) atmosphere of tension.

Unfortunately, the best that all of these talented people can do is build a handsome carapace around an empty, unaffecting play.

Photo: Charles Caster-Dudzick
Steve (Rudd) and Sara (the likeable Kate Arrington), religious Christians, have moved to Florida to start of chain of religious motels (Steve likes the name Crossroads Inns; Sara doesn't). Their next-door neighbor Sam (Shannon) wants to be left alone with his pain and loss, but Sara needs a friend and won't take no for an answer. Steve waits for the money that an investor has promised him (and that he perceives as proof of God's love and power). Sam and Sara hang out together. Karl-the-exterminator (Ed Asner) tells some stories. Some predictable things happen. People's beliefs in God shrink or grow. And none of it is particularly convincing or compelling.

A major problem is that it is difficult to care about Steve. If he were kind, if he really cared about other people's souls, rather than just about being right, the show would gain some much-needed complexity and balance.

[spoilers a-comin']

The decision to have the play begin at the end removes what little suspense it might have had. Not that an ending has to be a surprise--beginning at the end certainly doesn't hurt the movie Sunset Boulevard. But Grace has so little in the way of surprise or tension that the show can't afford to tip its (weak) hand.

In addition, playwright Wright can be lazy. For example, even though we know that Sara and Sam will fall in love, he doesn't bother to show it happening. Nor does he show Steve's growing frustration and fear as days and weeks pass and the money he has been promised doesn't appear

Perhaps most importantly, the presentation of questions of faith is simplistic and the characters' back stories rise little above cliché.

[end of spoilers]

All in all, Grace is a disappointment. I wanted--and want--to see Shannon and Rudd in a piece that is up to their talents. This isn't it.

(press ticket; 12th row, audience left)

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