Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Grace Flies High (but doesn’t Soar)

Grace, now playing at the Cort Theater, is a fine show performed by a stellar cast.  It is the story of Steve and Sara, who move from Minnesota to Florida to build a line of Christian Hotels (tagline – Where Would Jesus Stay?).  It opens with Steve committing adouble murder suicide, and then starts at the beginning of the story.
Paul Rudd, in a role far removed from his juvenile but funny movie characters, plays the overly earnest Steve.  Steve is a Christian Evangelical, occasionally his is manically evangelical.   He believes that all of his blessing are a gift from God – a personal gift.  Mr. Rudd does not play Steve condescendingly, but with true conviction.  Steve tries to behave within the norms of society, but he cannot help but try to persuade people to his beliefs – always starting politely, but then pushing a little too hard and too long.
Kate Arrington is wonderful as the understated wife, Sarah.  Srah is a little lost and lonely in Florida, but willing to follow her husband on his quest.  For her, it is about love and marriage, but she isn’t blind to Steve’s desire for money and a sort of fame.  Her loneliness leads her to seek out the reclusive neighbor, Sam.  Ms. Arrington's tender tentativeness is occasionally brushed away to show the strength of Sarah's personality.
Michael Shannon & Kate Arrington in Grace

The reclusive neighbor is Sam, physically disfigured as well as emotional scarred from a car accident.  Michael Shannon is astounding in this role.  He is a tightly controlled bundle of nerves; so uncomfortable with his visage that he sees no one.  Sara befriends Sam and their mutual isolation pulls down their walls, and they fall in love.  As shown in the opening scene, Sam kills them both before killing himself.
Where Grace surprises is showing the change in Sam and Sara.  They grow to have real faith in each other, and that leads them to question of their religious faith.  For Sara, it calls her morality into question.  Can something this good, be against God’s will?  Ms. Arrington’s understated performance lets the audience fill in the questions for her. For  Mr. Shannon's Sam, is the gift of love here something random, or a sign that there is a higher power?  Sam doesn’t have a sudden conversion to religion, but he does see something beautiful in the world.
Mr. Rudd’s Steve follows the opposite path.  As his plans fall apart, he blames God.  You see in his eyes and his mannerisms that if all good comes from God, then all this evil must also come from God.  Abandoned, he lashes out.
Ed Asner plays nicely in a small role as a German who saw too much in the war.  He brings the obvious questions, “If there is a God, why do some many bad things happen to good people?”, into the mix.  And there is a critical moment late in the play where Mr. Asner’s Karl returns – maybe in time to prevent tragedy.
All in all, Grace moves by quickly, without an intermission.  Dexter Bullard’s direction keeps the show from falling into cliché, by focusing on these amazing portrayals.  In an interesting choice, the stage itself rotates very slowly.  Perspectives change subtly and, like the play, take a little while to seep in.
Playwright: Craig Wright
Director: Dexter Bullard
Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Shannon, Kate Arrignton, Ed Asner

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