Award-winning TV/legit scripter Craig Wright (“Six Feet Under,” “Recent Tragic Events”) has successfully poured his highly cerebral, multifaceted socio-theological musings into “Grace,” an intimate journey though the potentially unstable structure of absolute religious conviction. Unfortunately, scripter’s delicate craftsmanship is undermined by helmer Damaso Rodriguez’s unfocused staging and an uneven ensemble that doesn’t appear to have spent enough time with the material.
Utilizing the tunnel-vision hyper-optimism of born-again Christian real estate developer Steve (Brad Price) as his thematic throughline, Wright burrows beneath the steely optimism of organized religion to reveal the layers of intellectual contradiction, spiritual uncertainty and human frailty that lead to consequences that are simultaneously ludicrous and deadly serious.
The action begins with a time-warping replay of the final searing tragedy that results from Steve’s spiritual inflexibility. As this scene is manipulated forward and backward, Wright reveals the haphazard immediacy of the psyche, rendering Steve’s ultimate decision an arbitrary emotional explosion that belies all of his religious convictions.
Helmer Rodriguez follows this cathartic episode with sluggishly evolving flashbacks to the happier days of Steve and wife Sara (Sara Hennesy), religious conservatives transplanted from small-town Minnesota, who have set up residence in South Florida in hopes of closing a mega-bucks hotel development deal. But Steve dreams of opening his own chain of Gospel-based hotels, complete with sanctuaries and baptismal pools. He even has his own slogan: “Where would Jesus stay?”
Rodriguez fails to underscore Wright’s evolving agendas as Steve plows forward with the conviction that if he has dreamed it, God will make it happen. Not fully realized are the sub themes presented by the increasingly doubtful Sara; disfigured neighbor Sam (Eric Pargac), a NASA consultant whose specialty is analyzing time and space; and exterminator Karl (Dana Kelly Jr.), a German refugee whose mind is still ravaged by his teen capitulation when confronted by Nazi soldiers.
Price is at his best when Steve attempts to sell his religious convictions to intellectually superior Sam and life-weary Karl. Price exudes the relentless cluelessness of a zealot who cannot recognize his efforts are being completely rejected. He is less believable when Steve emotionally disintegrates under the pressure of his subsequent disillusionment.
Kelly’s sardonic outing as Karl, who has seen more life and tragedy than Steve, Sara and Sam will ever know, is a highlight of the production.
Failing to connect with Wright’s agenda altogether is Hennessy, who has memorized Sara’s dialogue without understanding the inner life of her character. Sara’s evolving emotional attachment to Sam is played out in lackluster interplay with no veracity.
Not helping is Pargac’s one-note portrayal, which fails to show Sam’s spiritual awakening as his life is supposedly re-energized by the presence of Sara. All of that may be on the page, but it’s not on the stage.