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NY1 Theater Review: "Grace"

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A new play about an evangelical Christian couple brings a cast of some high-profile names from film and TV to Broadway. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.

God and, I would add, playwrights tend to work in mysterious ways. In the case of the play "Grace" by Craig Wright, we are treated to a provocative work that takes on the very challenging subject of religion and faith. And while it features supreme ensemble work, the play commits enough dramatic sins to keep me unconverted.

I don't want to spoil it for you but I can say this four-character drama begins with the ending and then rewinds. That's sin #1. Giving away the shocker of an ending so early only serves to undermine our investment in these intriguing characters.

Steve and Sara are an evangelical Christian couple newly arrived in Florida from Minnesota, where Steve struck a deal to build a chain of Gospel Hotels. Problem is, the deal is based on little more than a wing and a prayer and Steve discovers his blind faith can only take him so far. Cash-poor, he pitches his jaded neighbor Sam, who's recovering from a disfiguring accident that killed his girlfriend. Sam's a scientist and turned off to Steve's hard Christian sell.

The building's exterminator, Karl, isn't buying it either, dismissing Steve and Sara as Jesus freaks while recounting a horrific experience as a boy in Nazi Germany.

In fact, everyone has a defining story to tell, which comes off forced and schematic. And the abrupt plot shifts and time reversals register as gimmickry.

Still, the show engages and that has a lot to do with the solid performances. Ed Asner nicely delivers both comic relief and pathos. Kate Arrington does a 180 in convincing fashion. Paul Rudd colors Steve's religious zeal with wonderfully nuanced shades of darkness. And he is divine, along with Michael Shannon, making a sterling Broadway debut.

Dexter Bullard's staging is crisp, though there's no hiding the play's contrivances and muddled message. Still, if "Grace" doesn't make you a believer, it will have you thinking.

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