Grace, at The Cort Theatre, is set in balmy bug-infested Florida where Steve an Sara, played by Paul Rudd and Kate Arrington, have relocated from frigid-bug infested Minnesota to pursue their dream of opening a gospel-themed hotel. After an unseen benefactor green lights their project with the promise of a nine million dollar wire transfer things are looking good for the young couple, but Craig Wright’s script makes clear that bubbling beneath that good christian facade is a potential powder keg. The bright-eyed couples’ casual conversation cloaks sinister subtext. Doom lurks under every surface like the pests the hilarious and thoughtful Karl, played here by Ed Asner, sporadicly sprays for.
The show opens with a brilliant gimmick, a spoiler apparently giving away the ending. As the play unfolds the horror of what’s to come haunts each scene. However as evangelical Steve and Sara spar with Sam the scientist on issues of faith and the cosmos there is hope that the beginning is only a possible ending and not the fate to which they are doomed.
Sam the car-wrecked NASA scientist played by Michael Shannon of Boardwalk Empire fame reprises his exasperated-man-on-phone role from Mistakes Where Made, only this time in a Phantom of The Opera mask. If the evangelical couple eschews your empathy you immediately identify with and laugh at Sam’s tech-support limbo. Sam’s inner demons are more visible than Steve and Sara’s as he lumbers about the stage projecting his mental anguish through his physique like some sort of reverse Richard III, it’s marvelous.
Ed Asner appears twice for what initially looks like comic relief but shifts into something more profound. He delivers on both accounts. Plain-spoken small talk, things people say everyday without a second thought gain weight and levity at the same time with his superb timing.
Grace takes place in two adjacent suburban homes but the production cleverly avoids redundant scenery substituting one exquisitely awful set designed by Beowullf Boritt. A single set of furniture reminiscent of The Golden Girls does double duty in real time as the action in both houses overlaps, the audience is invited to ponder the similarities and incongruities between the two. The effect is both disorienting and illuminating and eloquently illustrates Sam’s speech about our inability to fully comprehend space and time.
As Steve’s biblical vision is besieged by one obstacle after another Sara and Sam find salvation from life’s drudgery in each other’s company. Steve’s religious hypocrisy, at first hilarious, inches into dangerous territory, as his inability to admit his faults pushes everyone closer to the precipice. All the while a solitary fan languidly spins above the proceedings, a reminder that whatever higher powers there may be they are either disinterested or too slow to act to save our characters from themselves. Grace asks more questions than it answers and like the lives of it’s characters, which alternate between frustrated ambition and aimlessness, it leaves a lot to be desired.