When the entrepreneurial business plan of a born-again Christian turns sour, is it God’s will? That’s just one of the ethereal questions posed in “Grace,” an intriguing new play by Craig Wright, making its debut in a Woolly Mammoth production in D.C.
Wright, whose “Recent Tragic Events” about post-9/11 life was a hit in its premiere at Woolly two years ago, doesn’t shy away from difficult or eternal topics. In “Grace,” he explores a multitude of faith vs. fate intangibles in an enjoyable and offbeat context, with a relevance that is unmistakable.
The play opens to a most unchristian-like act committed by the deeply religious Steve (David Fendig), whose faith, we later learn, has been severely tested. He and his born-again wife, Sara (Jennifer Mendenhall), have moved to Florida to get into the hotel business, hoping to start a chain of Christian properties that offer such amenities as Promisekeepers strength training. But alas, they have placed their faith in an investor whose cash never arrives, and so events begin to spiral.
The cosmic pot is stirred by a bitter and lonely next-door neighbor (Paul Morella), disfigured in an auto accident that killed his fiancee. He’s a NASA scientist whose opinions about space and time are rooted in pragmatism, unlike Steve, who explains, “I’m not a knower — I’m a believer.”
Although fundamentalists take some lumps, Wright really is out to explore such non-religious issues as the connections between events and the testing of personal beliefs. It is a humorous and thought-provoking script written in a tight single act and perceptively staged by Michael John Garces, Wright’s collaborator on “Tragic Events.”
The quartet offers finely tuned performances — Fendig’s sermonizing businessman, Mendenhall’s less-than-faithful wife and Morella’s brooding “Christian scientist.” Michael Willis has a delightful role as the visiting exterminator whose opinions are as caustic as his chemicals.
“Grace” was commissioned by Woolly through a partnership with A.S.K. Theater Projects and developed over a two-year period, including readings and workshops with director, cast and playwright. The result is in excellent shape, thanks also to its topical dialogue.