BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp California Review
When GraceComes In
by Gordon Osmond
When offered the opportunity to fulfill her life's dreams by running off with the abused husband of a friend, Kit Marlowe, in Old Acquaintance states: "There are things you just don't do." This credo would no doubt be considered morally simplistic by Grace Braxton, the title character in Heather McDonald's play, When Grace Comes In, which is having its world premiere this month at the La Jolla Playhouse in Southern California.
Grace, who, presumably as the result of a series of consensual acts on her part, has become the wife of a Utah Senator and the mother of three young children, finds that an unannounced day off at Washington's National Cathedral is restoratively insufficient, and therefore accepts a job teaching other people's children by day and restoring art by night (sic) all in far away Venice. (It seems she has a thing about water, perhaps because her dad died in it.)
To justify this apparently reckless abandonment of family responsibility, an audience member unschooled in the intricacies of modern psychological apologies looks for causes. Surely she's a battered wife. Well, actually, no, unless you count being digitally mastered by her husband-to-be on a park bench in Washington Square Park. Surely her children are a plague upon her. Well, actually, no, they're nice kids. Maybe time is short because of some morbid malady. Grace herself thinks so for a spell, but it turns out she's healthy as a horse. No, the inescapable conclusion is that Grace takes a powder purely because she feels like it.
But all may not be lost. Perhaps Grace will suffer a satisfying comeuppance for her neglect of the responsibilities of living in the human community. Not at all. At final curtain she's cuddled up with one of her children she singled out for companionship (because he has a deformed hand he's presumably ideally suited, in this world of topsy-turvy values, to assist her in her labors), thereby making even more certain the psychological damage to those left behind. At the same time she's receiving elegiac moral sanction from her boss. Ayn Rand was right: selfishness pays!
Ms. McDonald has been quoted as saying: "Often you don't find the play and finish it until you have live bodies." In waiting for the play's protagonist, she may have lost valuable time. Jane Beard's Grace, whose line deliveries alternate between flatness and stridency, does little to illuminate any heart behind the will, any flesh around the spine. To be fair, at times she's abandoned by the playwright as much as her husband and children were by her. Her endless farewell letter to her brood is a bore and her climactic response to her beseeching husband ("I am home") unbelievably trite. The park bench seduction scene is more porn than poetry. Once in a while, an appealing turn of phrase shows up but quickly wears out its welcome by self-conscious repetition.
Subsidiary characters fare better. Mark Chamberlin is perfectly serviceable as the husband and a passionate spokesperson for those who have a hard time buying what the play is selling. The young actors playing the semi-orphans do well in very limited roles and Mark Alan Gordon has fun playing, perhaps a bit too broadly, three roles including a mad scientist right out of the Time Machine and the obligatory gay mascot (are we ever going to outgrow this?).
The production offers some welcomed distractions. Daniel Ostling, who, given a script which lists "Water" as one of the play's locales and a recent success with an onstage pool in the Tony-nominated Metamorphosis, must have been tempted to take another plunge, but he opts instead to drop things from above: picture frames (occupied and un), a chandelier (which for some reason shared space for a time with a model of D.C.'s National Cathedral) and a doll house right out of Love, Valour, Compassion. Stephanie Berry was effectively encased in a well-lighted (Michael Chybowski) broadcasting studio where she did a good job spinning disks and stray commentary. Frances Kenny's outrageous costumes for some subsidiary characters contrasted nicely with the well-deserved drabness of Grace's garb, occasionally enlivened by long scarves in search of tire spokes.
Next stop for this production is said to be Seattle Repertory Theatre, the show's co-producer. Perhaps this water logged Grace will fare better where it's wetter.
LINKS TO REVIEWS OF OTHER PLAYS BY HEATHER MCDONALD
An Almost Holy Picture
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.