BWW Reviews: GRACE Shines at Circuit Playhouse

Grace is making its shining regional debut at The Circuit Playhouse.

This tragicomedy centers on a naive, evangelical couple, Sam (Christopher Joel Onken) and Sara (Morgan Howard) who move from Minnesota to Florida to pursue Steve's dream of opening a chain of gospel-themed motels.

The newlyweds' ostentatiously-wide-eyed spirituality stands out in stark contrast to the two other hardened, cynnical characters: Their next door neighbor, Steve (John Maness), is a NASA scientist who was severely disfigured in the car accident that killed his fiance and their exterminator, Karl (Michael Gravois), is a houlocaust survivor whose wife is dying of cancer. Between their wildly different circumstances, temperaments and esoteric notions about the workings (or non-workings) of the cosmic machinery, these characters are nuanced, convincing and compelling. All actors inhabit these challenging roles with a fascinating, consistent realism.

Under the directortion of Teddy Eck they employ several intriguing dramatic techniques including flashbacks, scenes that freeze and repeat, and characters that occupy the same space at the same time. Zach Badreddine's powerful sound design gives the show's surreal overtone's a visceral, haunting quality.

This suspenseful and deliciously disquieting tale is played out on a realistic, transparent-walled set designed by Andrew Mannion and lit by Nick Swanson. The neighbors' identical condos are depicted on one static, yet interchangeable floorplan that allows us to see and hear what's happening in both households at once. This feeling of distant proximity and interchangeablility creates a chilling metaphor for the characters' inner and outer lives.

My only beef with the story is the ending--thanks to playwright Craig Wright's decision to wrap up loose ends with a cataclysm. Endings are tough to write, and after such a complex, fine-tuned, intellectual drama, this sudden hurtling toward "closure" felt like an easy out. (Spoiler alert: There are bodies on the stage.) Fortunately, this cast contains some of Memphis' finest actors and they pulled off the flimsy denoument with admirable aplomb.

I would highly recommend this show not only because it is entertaining, but because it raises important questions that don't often end up on the stage these days--about truth, faith, perception, love and human resilience. This show is sure to resonate in your mind and warrant reflection long after the final curtain has fallen.

Grace runs through May 4 at The Circuit Playhouse 51 S. Cooper Street in Midtown Memphis. For more information, please call 901-726-4656 or purchase tickets online at playhouseonthesquare.org.



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From This Author Caroline Sposto