"Grace' by Luna Theater Co. (1st review)

3 minute read
Love thy neighbor


Grace, now playing upstairs at the Walnut, is a work of black humor with issues too real to ignore. The ensemble acting excels. It’s a quartet: a young married couple whose faith in Jesus appears infallible, and two men who are if not atheists, at least agnostic.

The scene is Sunrise, Florida. The couple, newly transplanted from Minnesota, is involved in husband Steve’s real estate scheme to build Gospel Hotels, financed by a Swiss mystery man, Mr. Himmelman. Steve appears to believe in everything, following one of those courses in self-actualization or maybe miracles. As played by the aptly named Chris Faith, Steve could sell shares in a false pope. He knows real estate has a great deal to do with religion: Both sell belief. The actor’s motor mouth, rages and mimicking of shingles demonstrate considerable timing and range.

A study in compassion

His wife Sara (Amanda Schoonover) isn’t so sure about those Crossroads Inns but she supports her man. Schoonover is a terrific young actress, and her face alone is a study in compassion. She’s performing acts of kindness for the neighbor Sam (Chris Fluck), a NASA scientist disfigured from an accident, with whom she’ll— well, you can figure this one out. Steve is of course hitting on this neighbor to invest in the real estate scheme and not incidentally to accept Jesus.

The remaining cast member is the pivotal figure: Karl, the palmetto bug exterminator, who has some fascinating theories about bugs, God, and Nazi Germany, which he managed to survive. Everyone who lives in Florida knows the critical nature of those insects, so the presence of Karl (played by Arnold Kendall) is critical and this actor is the right man for the job. Kendall’s work is sensitive and surprising.

Up from ‘Six Feet Under’

The playwright is an interesting fellow. Born Jewish and exposed to Judaism until his teens, Craig Wright then became a born-again Christian. In his 20s he attended divinity school, received his master’s and intended to become a minister but instead began writing plays. Wright’s work was unknown to me and so was the Luna Theater Company’s. Learning that he’d written a few episodes for “Six Feet Under” hooked me: That HBO Series was such a brilliantly produced and written piece of work. Funny how the beast of TV can inspire as well as surprise us.

Grace, organized in short bursts, like the best TV series, is tight and doesn’t over-depend on it its use of flashbacks or out-of-time sequences; as in “Six Feet Under,” it shows you beforehand the crime with which it will end. Nevertheless, there is such interest in the characters and so many twists and turns to the plot that you find yourself forgetting or not wanting to believe its dire conclusion. Gregory Scott Campbell’s direction gives a choreographic spin to his sparely designed, sufficient set.

To read another review by Jim Rutter, click here.

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