Although the most widely known name is irreverent-humor heartthrob Paul Rudd, as the eminent head of the household, "Grace" offers an all-around impressive cast. Kate Arrington plays a dutiful Christian housewife who isn't as well-drawn as the men but aptly demonstrates the paradox of virtue. Michael Shannon is subtly show-stealing as a disfigured and disenchanted NASA scientist...Multiple Emmy-winner Ed Asner, back onstage for the first time in more than two decades, only has two brief scenes as a pest-control technician — but they're the two that perhaps most characterize the message of "Grace." Together, the four actors exude as much presence as a larger ensemble thanks to their conviction and expertly allotted energy.
GRACE Broadway Reviews
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Rudd rises to the considerable challenge posed by Steve, who is at once guileless and presumptuous, well-meaning and self-serving to the point of being callous and cruel. The easy affability that he has brought to numerous films is distorted into a glib sense of entitlement that becomes comically anti-social.
“Grace” veers off in interesting directions by moving all the characters — not just Steve — outside of their comfort zone. Granted, Wright and director Dexter Bullard overreach at times. Not only does the show proceed in flashback, but both apartments share the set — the characters are in the same space without being in the same room — which is more confusing than anything else. And keep an eye on the overhead fan, which changes speed and direction at key moments.
The unraveling of Steve is at the heart of this play, and it is a sad and wondrous thing to watch Rudd, the childlike man of Judd Apatow films, go from a smug, big-smiling, self-assured guy to a shattered man whose faith has evaporated and who now holds a revolver…[Asner] has the comedy timing perfectly, not surprisingly, but it's also nice to see his angry side, too…Shannon and Arrington, a real-life couple, are stage animals through-and-through, and we are the beneficiaries.
Broadway isn’t often the place to ponder big questions, and Wright’s work is loaded with them…A former Methodist seminarian who writes for television and the stage, the playwright makes this weighty diet palatable and stimulating. His careful consideration of ideas could use sharper teeth, but he opens provocative areas for debate rather than sermonizing or mocking...Grace is a peculiar play that won’t be for everyone, and its payoff is definitely muted. But in a Broadway fall lineup stacked with revivals of familiar material, its unsettling mood is compelling.
So much of "Grace" sounds like an easy joke that, when the noose tightens, the surprise cuts sharp and deep. This strangely entertaining, seriously unsettling play...keeps teetering on becoming a glib cartoon about religion. But the actors -- Paul Rudd, Michael Shannon, Kate Arrington and Ed Asner -- make it impossible to look away long enough to doubt their characters.
The superbly-acted "Grace," which opened Thursday night at the Cort Theatre, is odd and utterly compelling. The play, by Craig Wright, pokes fun at a common religious belief, while making as eloquent and sensitive an argument for the rewards of faith as you'll find.
Miraculously, then, Grace is highly watchable; where it slumps as a play, it soars as a competent consumer good. Director Dexter Bullard (Bug, Mistakes Were Made) knows how to spotlight the standout beats and, for the most part, minimize the water-treading and showboating. Wright is, for the most part, a canny entertainer and an expert stirrer-of-shit: He can pass power, offense, and attack back and forth between characters like nobody’s business, and he has a particular knack for swiftly decompensating males.
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.
Local audiences might remember a terrific production of Grace by the Luna Theatre four years ago. It’s a play made for an intimate space, requiring a cast of subtle actors and a director who loves irony and can tolerate ambiguity. Judging by the current Broadway production, the script is not served so well by giving it a starry cast and an immense stage. The play is still intriguing and provocative and startling, but it’s essentially Off-Broadway material, suffering, under Dexter Bullard’s direction, from size and slickness.
The problem with the play is that there's no seismic shift when tables are turned, and the believers become doubters and the doubters find faith. In fact, both believers and doubters sort of slide over to the other side. If faith is as fundamental as Wright tells us it is, you'd think he'd have made his characters fight for it.
"Grace" isn’t as intellectually probing or unsettling as it means to be. It tidily stacks the deck of its central thesis, which concerns the nature of grace as it is visited on inhabitants of this earth. In Mr. Wright’s version the evangelical Christian doesn’t stand a chance…The paradox of the financially beleaguered Steve losing his religion while everybody else finds theirs is laid out as tidily as a PowerPoint presentation. And while all the performances are solid, I often had difficulty in believing these characters as something other than figures in a parable…If "Grace" winds up haunting you, it will be because of Mr. Shannon’s performance. And give credit to those who cast him, against obvious type, as the passive Sam instead of the increasingly crazy Steve...It’s when Sam is allowed, briefly, to imagine things might be otherwise that the dialectic of "Grace" acquires achingly human impact.
Craig Wright's "Grace" makes for an insightful comedic drama that explores religious faith from several different perspectives - at least whenever it's not straining to be a bizarre and awkwardly constructed thriller…Rudd, who is best known for appearing in Judd Apatow film comedies, makes a fine dramatic turn, while Shannon gives an intense performance. But it is Asner who easily steals the show with a monologue relating to the Holocaust.
Shannon is simply exceptional. Even Rudd provides his character with more substance than his usual happy-go-lucky boyfriend role; he turns Steve into a genial Jesus salesman with a hint of menacing chauvinism. But Kate Arrington fails to remain consistent, and Ed Asner’s jokes are often difficult to distinguish from his serious moments.
Rudd and Asner are terrific, catching their characters' light, dark, and manipulative sides, even if they're at opposite ends of the "Jesus freak" spectrum. Shannon is great in a scene where he frustratedly tries to get computer help on the phone--he seems to be the heir apparent to Christopher Walken-style quirky angst. But his big matchup with Arrington is dullsville and leads to a Hallmarky conclusion, as does Asner's sad tale...There's imagination at work here and to get dark comedy out of material this bleak is an achievement, but because of its flaws and limitations, I didn't find Grace to be amazing.
Despite a starry cast, numerous showy narrative devices and heady geek-speak about time and space, the production goes in circles as it questions God’s amazing grace. In the end, we’re left with all the illumination of “stuff happens.”
Asner nearly steals the show despite an accent from someplace no GPS could locate, at least on this planet. I wish Karl wasn’t saddled with a monologue that reeks of Holocaust porn involving rape and redemption.