Religion is a topic that people tend to stay away from when they are sitting around the dinner table. Everyone has a different idea of how it all began and how it will all end. One’s opinion can rapidly change if a miracle or tragedy finds its way into their life. Craig Wright’s new play Grace, shows all of Broadway how easy it is to either find belief or lose it when the quality life starts to change.
The play is about a young married couple Steve (Paul Rudd) and Sara (Kate Arrington) who move to Florida in hopes of starting a new chain of Gospel themed hotels. Steve has all of the plans in place, and is waiting to receive money from a wealthy investor in Sweden to give him the necessary money to start construction. They are visited in the beginning of the play by an exterminator named Karl (Ed Asner) who proclaims them to be “Jesus Freaks” and Steve and Sara learn that not everyone shares their love for God. Steve is forced to search for another source of funding for his hotel project while he is waiting for the Swedish investor, and turns to his next door neighbor Sam (Michael Shannon). Sam is a NASA employee whose fiancé died in a car crash and does not feel that he has a need for religion in his life. Sara and Sam both stay at home all day and quickly become very close with one another. The events of the play force everyone to rethink their idea of what religion means to them, while they fall in and out of God’s grace.
Paul Rudd (I Love You Man) leads this star studded cast playing the role of Steve. After .a lengthy hiatus from the Broadway stage, Rudd returns and is not in the least bit rusty. Rudd was able to keep all of the light hearted comedic elements in his performance that he is known for, and masterfully blend them with his ability to be completely serious when he needed to be. The different colors that he is able to put into his performance really allow his character to come to life. He had great physicality, and it was very nice to see Rudd in a role that was a little more serious than that which he is used to.
Steve’s next door neighbor Sam is played by Michael Shannon (HBO’s Boardwalk Empire). Shannon was outstanding in this role. He was able to capture his character’s injury and mentality almost flawlessly. Even though Sam is kind of a jerk at first, Shannon does a great job of making the audience fall in love with him, making the end of the play more and more heartbreaking. Both Rudd and Shannon are famous for a reason, and this play shows off just how good they are at their job.
The love interest of both of those men in the play is Sara played by Kate Arrington (The American Plan). In a cast with a great deal of star power, Arrington does a fine job of holding her own. Arrington was very successful in playing opposite of Rudd. Her ability to match his energy was superb. Arrington’s character had a much more passive religious view, where Rudd was actively trying to get people to believe in God, and she did a very good job of providing a balance when he would try to push religion on either Sam or Karl. Even though she is the least known member of the cast, the performance that she gives is just as good as anyone else.
7 time Emmy Award winner Ed Asner (Lou Grant) played the role of Karl the exterminator. Even though he was only on stage in in the beginning and towards the end of the play, his performance was both moving and very funny. His journey into finding a higher power is possibly the most interesting. Asner gives everything he says a great deal of importance, and he is just fun to watch while he is performing.
A great show can only be as great as its director. Dexter Bullard (Circle Mirror Transformation Victory Gardens Theater) made some tremendous staging choices that served the play very well. The most important one was having the both Sam’s and Steve’s apartments exist in the same space. This created moments on stage that would have never been realized if they were physically in two separate parts of the stage. It was a brilliant choice by both Bullard and scenic designer Beowulf Borrit (The Scottsboro Boys), and the play would have not been as good as it was without the spacing being set up in the manner that it was.
Grace was most certainly a play that is worth seeing. It has something for both the people who want to laugh and the people who want to leave the theater thinking about something. Everyone involved in the production skillfully demonstrates their abilities, and the audience is rewarded with the wonderful piece of theater that the cast and crew has created.