Entries in Grace (1)

Monday
Apr082013

NEXT ACT THEATRE POWERFULLY QUESTIONS GRACE

The word “grace” conjures many definitions and scenarios taken from the legal system, the lovelorn and then religious jargon and law. Playwright Craig Wright holds a Masters of Divinity degree from United Theological Seminary, which definitively influences his award nominated play recently produced on Broadway he titled Grace. To close the subscription season, Next Act Theatre stages the production for what Artistic and Sound Director, and then Director, David Cecsarini names, “Theater with a bite.”

Cecsarini carefully directs a compelling and talented cast of four---Libby Amato, John Kishline, Rick Pendzich and Jonathan Wainwright---in a complex drama that converges in one space an exterminator, a genius IT professional with a devastating injury, an attractive and lonely wife and her over expectant husband trying to make a living in hotel management. The husband bases his business plans on advice from Christian financial advisors instead of perhaps God’s actual spiritual principles, all in the name of grace. And the play's questions infer in certain characters’ experiences if there is or why there is any God at all.

In Wright’s story, Steve (Pendzich) and Sara (Amato) move to Florida and pursue their dream of hotel development after “planting seeds of a financial harvest” and then scoring 14 million from an unseen and unspoken to business partner. Steve prefers the name Crossroads Hotels, a chain of hotels perfectly attuned to the “Christian”, in Wright's interesting nod to some of the business plans that commercial religion proposes.

Next door in the couple’s apartment complex lives Sam (Wainwright), a depressed NASA scientist who streams data between time and space, from the heavens, and recently lost his fiancé in a tragic accident that leaves his face disfigured. Enter the philosophical holocaust survivor, Karl (Kishline), an older man who now exterminates the hundreds of bugs, even terminates, that infest Florida buildings and houses. Steve in his enthusiasm for his new-found investment riches often “witnesses” to Karl and Sam, trying to convince them to believe in God.

How actual grace and the word’s meaning unfolds for each character throughout the performance will fascinate the audience. Hotel plans may come and go, hope grasped for a moment and then pulled from reach numerous times in the performance as Amato creates a believing, innocent wife who eventually determines her own spiritual direction in the course of the play. Pendzich and Wainwright provide the compelling counterpoints as Kishline’s cameo appearances rivet the audience’s attention when he steps on the sparse stage. Rick Rasmussen’s white wicker furniture cools off the Florida heat on this ghostly pale living room set.

While the ending may resolve these various issues perhaps too easily and expectedly, the audience may think otherwise. What anyone with any religious beliefs may be capable of when faced with difficult circumstances underscores this definition of what true grace requires from a person.  And asks the audience to construct their own meaning to grace and what they believe about God.

Tragically and unfortunately, Next Act’s Grace uncovers timely contemporary context as famed Christian pastor Rick Warren’s 27-year old son recently committed suicide that causes heartbreak, similar to circumstances in the  play and imparts even deeper meaning, importance to the production. Discover this powerful play and then vow to determine genuine grace in one’s own life.

Next Act Theatre presents Grace through April 28 in their new theater at 255 South Water Street. For information or tickets, please call414.278.0765 or click the Next Act link to the left.       by Peggy Sue Dunigan