Review of Grace
By Craig Wright
Directed by John Craven
For tickets / schedule :
Main Stage West, Sebastopol
Tickets: $30, $25 Senior 65+, $15 Students

RUN: September 8-24, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(September 14, 2017)

Grace - Main Stage West

Sam (Sam Coughlin) and Sara (Ilana Niernberger) share a moment while Steve (John Browning) questions his decisions. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Personal beliefs formed through experience powerfully motivate decisions, whether feeling a sense of wonder in the universe or bitterness from the darkness it contains. Grace is a collection of four characters examining life through different lenses. Steve is an overbearing “born again” Christian, urging his faith on others whether they want to hear about it or not. His wife Sara has a quiet, deeper spirituality based on her loving, compassionate view of the world. Karl’s heinous experiences in Nazi Germany caused him to reject the idea of a deity entirely. Sam’s self-loathing and survivor’s guilt leave him vulnerable and searching for meaning.

This dark comedy follows a couple who recently moved to Florida, planning to renovate hotels, and their shut-in neighbor who is a scientist at NASA. What begins as an innocent attempt to help him feel included blossoms into friendship with the equally lonely stay at home wife.

Grace - Main Stage West

Sara (Ilana Niernberger) discusses hotel renovations with Steve (John Browning). Photo by Eric Chazankin.

While there is a definite story, playwright Craig Wright plays with abstract use of time, rearranging sequences, pausing scenes at crucial moments, and replaying encounters in slow motion to reiterate a point. Doug Faxon’s sound design situates the audience, moving through the complexity of this presentation style; John Craven’s direction keeps the sudden shifts clear and easy to follow. Missy Weaver’s creative lighting design shifts focus, illuminating specific areas of the stage, as needed. The result is a fascinating surreal journey with spikes in tension and a dramatic climax.

Blustering husband Steve (John Browning) constantly asks if others attended church growing up, and becomes irate at their lack of interest. I have met plenty of similarly enthusiastic Christians, wishing they could let it rest long enough to have a regular conversation. His smugly content facial expressions slowly grate at Sara (Ilana Niernberger) who is tired of his discordant insistence on ignoring the emotional landscape of a room to push his beliefs. He blusters at Sam, while his wife huddles on the couch, head in her hands, wishing it would end.

Grace - Main Stage West

Steve (John Browning) explains an investment opportunity to Sam (Sam Coughlin). Photo by Eric Chazankin.

The two apartments overlap locations simultaneously, offering unique visual dynamics. A view of palm trees silhouetted by the sunset shimmers in the background, printed by Robert Brendt. Sam (Sam Coughlin) slides effortlessly between comedic exchanges with uncooperative technical support for his camera software and opening up to Sara about the tragedy of his past with anguished sensitivity. In a brief, dynamic role, Craven as Karl is an exterminator who arrives at the apartments, willing to argue down Steve’s self-righteous rhetoric.

Despite the title Grace, this is not a lighthearted Christian play. Wright brings the sharpened intellect of his Master of Divinity degree to bear on a broken faith community, shining a light into the crevices of petty arrogance and willful ignorance. Sara’s acute embarrassment at the typical behavior of a modern Christian is a reminder that whatever a person’s belief, it is more important to be present and aware of others, willing to set aside pride for their hopes and dreams. Main Stage West’s Grace is a disturbing and desperately needed commentary on using faith to excuse a litany of behaviors toward fellow human beings, gathering a riveting cast of local talent.