Grace

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    October 1, 2012
    Review by:
    Tulic McCall

    (Review by Tulic McCall)

    There is some fancy footwork going on over at the Court Theatre. I am, of course, speaking of the set. This is not to say that the actors are horrid or anywhere near it. They are, however, not as good as Beowulf Borit’s set design, which is a teensy bit short of spectacular. Scenes begin in one time and end in another, and kudos has to go to the actors for managing to master their blocking to perfection. There are two apartments in one space, and were these people less focused it would be a total disaster.

    A “Born Again” couple – well one of them, Steve (Paul Rudd) is completely born again and the other Sara (Kate Arrington) is just enthusiastic – have moved to Florida to set up a chain of Christian hotels. This is case in point of why Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard like writing about Florida – this is where the lunatic fringe becomes mainstream. Anyway, when the money doesn’t’ show up and the deal goes sour there is no joy in the panhandle.

    Steve takes a nose dive of course, but Sara has found a new friend in the building's recluse, Sam (Michael Shannon). Sam was in a freak car accident a few years ago in which his girlfriend was killed and he himself was dragged a good distance face first. The upshot is that Sam wears a milky plastic half-face mask (think Phantom) and has placed some sort of lock on his broken heart. The ministrations of Sara are just the ticket to bring him back into the world.

    When Steve finally puts his periscope up to look for his wife things go anything but smoothly, which is all rather predicable. What is not predictable are the pockets of terrific dialogue as these three characters drop deep into religion, salvation, the existence of God, life's purpose, trust and that old elusive notion, love. Each of these actors handles the critical moments with style, but it’s the quiet moments that lag.

    Michael Shannon recycles his standard brooding man who squints - a lot. Paul Rudd lacks focus, and Kate Arrington is so gentle you want to shake her. And they are not aided by the series of reverse action moments in which the actors reverse their motions but not their words - an idea that works only half the time.

    Ed Asner (Karl) on the other hand is a brisk breeze blowing through the stage. Asner must be catching up on a pile of reading because he spends less time on the stage than my father spent on his morning bathroom ritual – which is too bad, because Karl is the only character participating in the world that is in front of him. Not the world that was, not the world that could be and certainly not the world in the hereafter. Karl is an exterminator. The present is the deal. He dispatches poison to the bugs and lectures to the other characters with simplicity and clarity. There is no proof of God and no cure for termites.

    In the end it is the set that steals the show as it revolves at the speed of a snail, backed by an oval sky that morphs from dawn to dusk and back again. Just by sitting still the actors are transformed. Too bad there isn’t much more meat on the bones of this production to take it to the next level.

    "Cool, strangulated little essay of a play. ... if 'Grace' is remembered in years to come — and I can’t promise it will be — it will most likely be as the production that brought Mr. Shannon’s electrically anxious acting to Broadway."
    Ben Brantley for NY Times

    "Despite a starry cast, numerous showy narrative devices and heady geek-speak about time and space, the production goes in circles as it questions God’s amazing grace."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News

    "Turns out to have a simple, affecting point: It’s about the stories we tell ourselves to make it through life."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Muddled plot and rocky character development."
    Suzy Evans for Back Stage

    "An uncommonly interesting and involving play."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "The play commits enough dramatic sins to keep me unconverted."
    Roma Torre for NY1

    "It lacks sufficient power to be a significant Broadway attraction."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "A lean and muscular production by director Dexter Bullard and a high-caliber four-person cast."
    David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

    "Invites debate on big issues, like the existence of God and the power of faith. But it does so in a creepy-funny way that keeps auds guessing about the scribe's intentions, the director's attitude and the characters' sanity."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey - The Hollywood Reporter - Variety