Grace might be counted as an eye-of-the-beholder experience that will play entertainingly enough to most, but won’t satisfy across-the-board as consistently. The play by Craig Wright seems to make no bones about its thematic agenda. It’s framed in a flashback that moves in backwards time; we’re in a Florida condo: Steve (Paul Rudd) rises from suicide death on a condo couch, unshoots himself, rises, unshoots his wife Sara (Kate Arrington), whereupon they go through their last conversation with sentences in reverse chronology, then Steve moves toward the door and unshoots his neighbor Sam (Michael Shannon) who rises and begs for his life.
Picture freezes, set rotates a little, we go back to the beginning, Steve and Sara have only recently moved in; Steve comes home to announce a big business deal for a Christian themed hotel is about to go through. And as he talks, we realize he’s an evangelical preacher with ambitions. And now we know—the story, one way or another, is going to dramatize the pernicious aspects of a cult-minded faith-based existence that sees only Its Way as Truth—as contrasted with faith that develops of its own volition as life experience leads the way. And sure enough, we see Steve in ideological conflict with the elderly but energetically crotchety German expatriate exterminator Karl (Edward Asner) who genially calls him “Jesus Freak”; and aforementioned neighbor Sam: reclusive, withdrawn, physically-and-emotionally damaged in the wake of a car accident that left him a widower. And a growing rift develops between Steve and Sara as his vehemence becomes angrier and even less inclusive.
These aren’t, of course, spoilers because the ending we begin with is so stark and unequivocal that a few minutes into the beginning we can pretty much sense the general arc—and the savvier you are about story structure and plot seeds, the more particularly you’ll see what’s coming. So it’s all about beat for beat delineation, dialogue, the briskness of the narrative; and all that Craig Wright delivers with smooth, razored professionalism.
What you won’t find here are the psychological revelations that provide deep insight into the faith-based mentality. Mr. Wright gives us enough to understand the bitterness and reclusiveness of Sam (which Michael Shannon delivers with the acid humor of a life lived in rage); the philosophical pragmatism of Karl (Asner at the top of his game, who can turn a wry nuance into a signature moment); and though we don’t hear much about Sara’s psychological background, it’s clear enough why she feels the need to escape from Steve’s oppressive dominance…but what it is that fuels Steve, really fuels him, and is at the heart of not only his relentless dogmatism, but his fear of releasing it, is never articulated…so he remains forever nothing more than an evangelical poster boy, typically bewildering in his intransigence. Which doesn’t leave Paul Rudd much ammo to fill him out, and forces him to rely on whatever he can infuse into persona and patter. And though the direction by Dexter Bullard is clean, well-paced and efficient, it likewise doesn’t go deep.
With that core piece of the puzzle undefined, Grace is riveting for some, unsatisfying for others. Curiously, the night I attended, my significant other was unsatisfied, a close colleague was riveted and I…well, I understood both points of view. Bottom line, though: I didn’t feel my time was wasted, and I was glad to have taken the ride. I don’t know if you’ll feel the same; take it on faith and see…
Go to David Spencer's Profile
Return to Home Page