Faith and Knowledge, Fate or Coincidence: Thoughts on Grace – October 3, 2012

Issues of faith and individual choice have always been the source of much debate and conflict in any society, but it seems (to me) that these debates, discussions and such are more acutely at the forefront of American media right now, with politicians and political commentators expressing their opinions and impressing their viewpoints to the general public (and the general public responding in kind via social media) – not surprisingly so, since this year is an election year and it seems (to me) that generally speaking, most of the nation is polarized to be exclusively on one side of the political fence. So in the midst of all these (oftentimes) heated discussions and debates, comes Grace, a new play by Craig Wright, currently playing at the Cort Theatre for a limited run from September 13, 2012 through January 6, 2013. The play commentates on the notion of faith and facts, and on whether events happen due to fate or coincidence. I had obtained tickets for this play (among others) via the TDF ticket raffle booth at this year’s Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market & Auction, and had been intrigued by the premise of the piece.

The premise of the play centers around Steve and Sara, a religiously devout couple from Minnesota who relocate to Florida with the hopes of building a chain of gospel-themed motels (“Where would Jesus stay?” posits Steve whilst explaining his vision), and their interactions with their neighbor Sam, a NASA scientist who has had his share of tragedy, and Karl, an exterminator who also has had tragic moments in his life. Both Sam and Karl essentially have very little faith in God, which juxtaposes Steve and Sara’s overwhelming faith, and their verbal confrontations have lasting impact on their perspectives on life. Time and space are also a recurring theme, as scenes are replayed and the single set design sans any visible walls enhances the overlapping nature of the characters. The play is billed as a dark comedy, though a fellow theatergoer had commented that the play would be more accurately described as a dramedy – there are moments of lighted-hearted banter in the piece as well as poignant revelations.

The four actors on stage were astounding in their performances – the cast consisted of Paul Rudd, best known for comedic movies such as Knocked Up and The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, Kate Arrington, a Chicago-based theatre actress making her Broadway debut, Michael Shannon, best known for movies such as Revolutionary Road and as a regular on the TV series Boardwalk Empire, and Ed Asner, best known as “Lou Grant” on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and countless other TV and films, as Steve, Sara, Sam and Karl, respectively. I was quite impressed with Paul Rudd and his nuanced performance of a man so focused and reliant upon his faith that it blinds him from the pragmatic flaws in his mission; having primarily seen him on film in a comedic roles, it was quite a revelation. Kate Arrington makes the most of her Broadway debut and brings forth complexity in what might have been a one-dimensional character – her portrayal allows for shades of grey in an otherwise black and white vantage point. Michael Shannon exudes both seething and quiet anger concurrently, becoming the catalyst that changes Steve and Sara’s lives. While not always on stage, Ed Asner provides much of the comedic moments within the play, but also imparts moments of poignancy and perspective.

The stage door experience was great, per usual, with a mix of younger and older theatergoers waiting (the younger theatergoers looking forward to seeing Paul Rudd, and the older theatergoers anticipating to see Ed Asner).  The actors came out and delighted in signing playbills and posing for photos – both Ed Asner and Michael Shannon lingered to chat with those waiting at the stage door, determined to meet each and every person there (to the point where Ed Asner had to be physically pulled away from chatting and signing playbills and into a waiting taxi!).  It was the final matinee before opening the following evening, so there were plenty of well wishes for the cast from those at the stage door.

The cast of Grace (clockwise from top): Kate Arrington, Paul Rudd, Michael Shannon and Ed Asner

In conclusion, I do recommend seeing this play for the sheer quality of acting from its cast and its own perspective on the notion of faith, knowledge, fate and coincidence.

Cast signed playbill