Backstage Review of “Grace”

I went to the opera yesterday, the Met HD broadcast of Così fan tutte. I’ve seen it before; I know what will happen. So why do I go? Because I know I will hear glorious singing and perhaps some interesting staging.

Then I went last night to see Grace, a play by Craig Wright. Won’t need to do that again. I won’t recapitulate the plot, and not because I’m opposed to spoilers. In this play, there aren’t any. Within minutes, this 90-minute play was laid out crystal clear and predictable. We did get to see some competent acting, but nothing to match Isabel Leonard’s vocal pyrotechnics.

The acting was good. Johnny Hebda as Steve perhaps too much, too bubbly, as if playing a Jesus Freak the way he knows Jesus Freaks act (or ought to act); JayC Stoddard perhaps too little, a more understated Sam than would attract the neighbor’s wife (though masked inscrutability has its attractions, as the Phantom realized; Emilie Eileen Starr and Jeffrey Owen just right. Sara shows more nerve than Christine in her parallel unmasking scene, and the chronology would put Karl in his (barely believable) 80s.

But all of them turned in performances worthy of the actor’s craft, if they just had a vehicle that was more than a by-the-numbers exploration of Why (Moderately) Bad Things Happen to (Pretty) Good People. If (as Voltaire might have) we set the Lisbon Earthquake as 100 on the scale of bad things, Steve’s troubles clock in at around 4, and Sam’s higher only because we all know what it’s like to deal with the computer Help Desk over the phone. Karl’s are appreciably higher, and perhaps that’s why he comes the closest to Figuring It Out.

As to staging, the author has given us an interesting conceit, one that saves on sets and provides as least one good laugh. The scene is two identical adjoining one-bedroom apartments. Sam lives in one and Steve and Sara live in the other, but the “living” is simultaneous, which doesn’t really add much to the story, but makes Sam’s confusion understandable (and funny) when he orders Steve and Sara out of their own apartment.

Karl is the exterminator hired by the apartment manager to come and spray. Judging by how often he shows up, apparently management in Florida is more conscientious about these things than mine ever were in New York.

The play is not really about second chances, but about human desire for second chances, but since we’re all in that boat it doesn’t tell us much. Elapsed time is not quite clear (at least it wasn’t to me) in the script, and there is one place where it seems to get caught in a loop, playing a few bars over and over again, but that didn’t seem to add anything either. Unless it was during that loop that Karl’s wife died, providing him with the Insight that “something is going on” that materialism can’t quite explain.

That’s a thought I’ve often had, and so to that extent the play is comfortable, if too predictable to be particularly comforting. It certainly didn’t comfort Steve.

Utah Repertory Theater Company and Around the Globe Theatre present “Grace” by Craig Wright. Performing at the Sugar Space (616 East Wilmington Avenue, SLC) Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Saturday matinees at 2 p.m., and Sundays at 6 p.m. through 10 May 2014.

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