Steve and Sara (Paul Rudd and Kate Arrington) are a Christian couple who have moved to Florida from Minnesota to open a chain of gospel-themed hotels under the moniker “Where Would Jesus Stay.” To realize this, Steve is relying on support from a foreign investor with whom he has neither met nor spoken.
Living next door is Sam (Michael Shannon), a bitter man who has lost his fiance in an auto accident, at the same time having his own face disfigured. The final character in this four-character play is Karl (Ed Asner), a German exterminator with a tragic past involving Nazis. Neither of these two men could be said to be living in a state of “grace” as both their lives have been marred by tragedy and horror.
Steve’s actual faith is dubious. Upon learning that he will be receive the financing for his new hotel chain (something that never happens), he exclaims “Thank you, fucking Jesus.” The further he gets from the financing, the farther he seems to get from his faith. Sara’s primary focus is on having a baby.
The set by Beowulf Boritt is a nondescript Florida apartment represented by a few pieces of rattan furniture set on a turntable. On an outer turntable is an apartment door and a set of sliders. Upstage is a wall with a huge oval cut into it that extends almost the entire width of the stage. Through it we see a moving sky of clouds that are lit differently throughout the evening. The author has called for the use of a single set to represent both Sara and Steve’s apartment as well as the apartment of Sam. Bullard has used this device effectively as he intertwines the lives of the two sets of tenants. He is aided by Beowulf’s set, its two turntables rotating ever so slowly in opposite directions to draw the distinction between the two apartments. Lighting designer David Weiner adds dramatic tension, at the end of each scene as a flash goes off, the actors pose momentarily in a quick tableau.
Grace sports a superior cast who bring these nuanced and shaded characters to life. In a departure from his usual nice-guy role, Rudd gets to show an anxious, angry side, which flares up any time his wife questions him. Kate Arrington, though her role is less fleshed out than those of the mens’ roles, makes the most of it with a believable transition from devout Christian, to realist.
Ed Asner makes a welcome return to Broadway since he appeared in Born Yesterday in 1989. His Karl (who refers to Steve as “Jesus Freak”) is a man who sees no sign of the existence of a higher being despite Steve’s proselytizing. This decision has been arrived at after a life of pain and terror. But it is remarkable to watch as Asner takes Karl from a miserable, unhappy man, to someone who thinks there might actual be a higher power as he rediscovers a long-lost love.
Academy Award nominee Shannon gives brilliant life to Sam’s rage and despair. He peels away an outer angry layer to reveal a gentle, vulnerable, broken-hearted man who is capable of being loved again.
Grace has terrific characters brought to life by brilliant actors all orchestrated by spot on direction. You only have a limited time to see Grace. It will run at the Cort Theatre through January 6, 2013.