Craig Wright’s Grace is one of those glibly funny but flawed dramas about faith in 21st-century America in which the evangelical Christians are hypocrites, or worse. Steve and Sara, played by Paul Rudd and Kate Arrington, are wide-eyed Minnesotans who’ve moved to Florida so Steve can pursue his dream of opening a chain of gospel-themed motels. (He’s batting around a couple different names for the venture, from Crossroads Inns to The Upper Rooms to Sonrise Hotels.) Steve is a pesky proselytizer who will buttonhole strangers like his new neighbor, Sam (Michael Shannon), an MIT grad and computer expert badly hurt in a car accident that claimed the life of his wife.
Steve is also the whipping boy for Wright’s blanket condemnation of American religiosity. He’s a smooth talker, but a dim bulb — apparently too naïve to realize that the unseen Swiss investor who’s promised to fund his first motel project has disappeared, with Steve and Sara’s life savings hanging in the balance. ”I’m not a knower, I’m a believer,” he explains. But Wright pushes the caricature still further. Not only is Steve’s belief appallingly thin, with God a glorified life coach in his pursuit of a career, but challenges quickly and implausibly push him to mass murder. Yes, you read that right.
In the play’s opening scene, we see Steve standing over the bodies of both Sara and Sam before he takes a gun to himself. The players physically rewind the action in slow motion, a storytelling device that is repeated several times in the 100-minute show, and then we flashback to the events that led to the tragedy — which also involve an aged pest exterminator (Ed Asner) who still smarts from betraying a Jewish girl whom his family harbored in WWII Germany.
Rudd, who last appeared on Broadway in 2006’s Three Days of Rain with Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper, makes Steve a mostly likable jabbermouth. But he seems distracted by the physical choreography of the role, particularly in the rewind sequences, and he never quite makes Steve’s psychological snap into criminality convincing. Shannon and Arrington, in their Broadway debuts, seem on surer ground with their more plausible characters — though Sarah remains surprisingly underwritten, a Christian pop enthusiast who finds herself drawn emotionally and physically to Sam and his almost palpable grief.
Director Dexter Bullard keeps the action moving fluidly. Unfortunately, he also keeps Beowulf Boritt’s turntable set in nearly constant motion as well — audiences might consider popping Dramamine for all the random rotation of the wicker furniture representing both Steve and Sara’s as well as Sam’s apartments. Perhaps, despite all of Wright’s jabs at believers, this is the surest evidence of an unseen God at work in the universe. B?
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)