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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

I'm not talking about the Bible, I'm talking about life! Maybe you're right, maybe there is a God, but maybe in God, there's no justice. --- Sam

Eric Pargac, Brad Price and Sara Hennessy  in Grace (Photo: Anthony Masters)
From the talented mind of Craig Wright, writer of one of HBO's most successful and strangely addictive shows Six Feet Under, Furious Theatre Company presents its newest play Grace. Wright displays a similar writing style in his most recent work, as Grace puts the audience on the spot, asking us to witness uncomfortable moments, unnerving silences, and unsettling topics of conversation in a darkly comedic setting. Whereas Six Feet Under confronts death, Grace provocatively tackles the theme of religion. The issue is timely, to say the least—and it's a relief to see religion approached so frankly in this well written play.

The setting is Miami, an apt environment for anyone to have a crisis of faith. The set design and lighting are wonderfully evocative, subtly adding religious undertones to each scene. The three main characters simultaneously inhabit identical apartments, complete with cathedral-like windows and arches in the background. The blue and orange hues of the lighting stir up images of a church, even as we are firmly planted in suburbia.

Still, in holding with the complexity and hypocrisy of Grace's chosen theme, the beginning of the play jolts us with rock music and gun fire—hardly a serene or church-like opening. An ear splitting gun shot rings out (not for the faint of heart) and from there we journey backward. Wright's decision to begin the play at the end seems to spring from the fact that he delights in audience anticipation. Although we know how things will pan out, it is ultimately the journey that is intriguing, a theme echoed throughout the play, as the characters try to find meaning in the chaos of everyday life.

Wright's Steve and Sarah are your typical, devoutly religious couple: happily married, just starting out in Florida, full of faith that God will watch over them and reward them for all their hard work. In a neat trick all the characters simultaneously share one space although they are in separate apartments. Steve and Sarah's neighbor Sam, is your typical, disenchanted cynic, having been through all sorts of hell in a tragic accident that has left him terribly disfigured. It's not a stretch to guess that when Sam, Sarah and Steve all meet, there will be immediate friction, possibly some sparks (romantic or otherwise)— and definitely a philosophical debate.

Unfortunately, Damaso Rodriguez's direction doesn't always satisfy. Rodriguez never takes full advantage of his actors being in that same space. In addition, for the most part they are consigned to the couch center stage, which gives a static feel to what should be far more frenzied and free show. The beginning lags, as Steve (Brad Price) and Sara (Sara Hennessy) seem to be acting devout instead of really inhabiting their characters. Sam (Eric Pargac) is the most believable of the three, but when he and Steve interact the tension between them never grips us as it should. In fact, Price often seems disconnected from his words, even when he's proselytizing. Hennessy is at her best when she's paired with Pargac, yet she doesn't quite bring us into her confusion and yearning.

Although the play has its share of laughs, the off beat comedy never quite works as it should. Fortunately, Grace hits its stride during the more serious portions, when we're completely invested in every word. The actors shine in their monologues, with the exterminator Karl (Dana Kelly Jr.) telling a moving and tragic story of the holocaust, and Sara revealing the instance where her faith was rekindled as Sam begins to realize there just might be something to live for after all.

In moments like these it's upsetting to know that tragedy will inevitably strike. Still, there's a lot to like in a show that prods but doesn't preach, forcing us to think about our own ideas and those presented on the stage. In a country where freedom of religion is advocated but not always practiced, it's easy to relate what happens in the play to the hypocrisy in so many of our current policies and trends. Religion has even become a topic off limits to many friends and spouses, in order to avoid arguments and conflict. Luckily, Wright isn't afraid to provoke, and although his Grace never tells us what to think, it certainly emphasizes that our convictions can and will always be challenged. Love, death and even faith may surprise us when we least expect.

Playwright: Craig Wright
Director: Damaso Rodriguez
Cast: Brad Price, Sarah Hennessy, Eric Pargac, and Dana Kelly Jr.
Set Design: Shawn Lee
Costume Design: Megan Goodchild
Lighting Design: Christie Wright
Sound Design: Doug Newell
Stage Manager: Sudro Brown II
Running Time: 100 minutes, no intermission
Dates: October 7- November 11, 2006. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 7:30 pm.
Furious Theatre Company at the Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 29 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena.
Tickets: $15 - $24. Students $5 rush. Call (626) 356-PLAY or
Reviewed by Ariana Mufson on 10/8/06.

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