THE BOOK OF GRACE
Review by Tulis McCall
18 Mar 2010
Well, folks, there is trouble in River City and her name is Grace. Well, she is not the trouble really, but she surely has a way of attracting it to her.
Set in nowhere Southwest, near the Fence that is supposed to be keeping aliens out of the country, Grace lives with her husband, known only as Vet. Grace looks for the good while Vet looks for the borders. Borders define what is yours and what is mine. For Vet, pretty much everything falls into the "what is mine" category. Vet is a black sooty cloud in a Border Patrol uniform. The only light Grace has is in her secret book - the Book of Grace - that she has hidden under floorboards in the living room. In it she keeps scraps of stories about people saving people, lost animals returning home. The other little ray of hope is Buddy, Vet's son, who she has invited to visit on the occasion of Vet's getting an award for capturing aliens who were smuggling marijuana.
It has been 15 years since they have seen Buddy. In that time he has become a medal-toting Vet himself. So when he does show up he is carrying a chip the size of Idaho on his shoulder and flashing an attitude that mirrors his father in more ways than one.
How this all plays out is fairly predictable. What is the delicious part is how Parks dishes it out. Buddy is more alien that the border crossers. He brings Vet's past transgressions, sins of omission and commission with him. He has few words and an equal number of actions (like the kiss he plants on his father for old time's sake). But each is enough to slide like a needle under Vet's skin. Enough of those and Vet is ready to pop.
Grace herself is ripe for the picking. She gives herself to Buddy with a mighty passion that she then buries along with her book. Once it has been released, however, it is not easily dismissed. Grace finds herself in the position of an adult who is being badgered by a child who wants MORE and will not settle. As Grace tries to tell the world that looking on the bright side doesn't cost anything, she is realizing that the way she lives her life is costing her plenty.
Vet lives in a world that requires watching. Grace lives in a world that requires protection. Buddy lives in a world that requires retribution. One cannot see, one cannot speak, one cannot hear.
Parks places them all together and lets their fingers do the walking. This is not a pretty story, and at times its construction wanders off the stage. There are some holes and hairpin turns in the story that defy explanation. But then again it seems all of a purpose. There is a kind of Ionesco meets Albee for brunch quality to it. It is absurd, cruel and poetic. Like watching a car accident. It is horrible, and you can't look away.
While all three actors are fine - almost too chilling at times - let me just say that we were about 15 minutes into the play before I realized I was watching Elizabeth Marvel. Marvel has so erased any trace of her style and strength that it is as though someone sucked out all her blood. The Grace that she gives us is a woman nailed to a cross of disappointment who is still looking out, like the joke says, and yelling "Hey! I can see my house from here!"
Marvel is reason enough to see this play. Taking a tour through Park's mind isn't bad either.
"Ambitious, intriguing and annoying play"
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"The show is slack from beginning to end."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Never quite jells."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"It's good, visceral theater."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
Michael Kuchwara for AP
"Fizzles out without catching fire."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
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