Powerful is an apt description for Yellow Tree Theatre’s new production of Grace. Playwright Craig Wright’s thought-provoking play centers on belief systems and what happens when they prove to be insufficient. Under the direction of Terry Hempleman, this production generates compelling acting by each of the four players (Hempleman also plays the exterminator).
Wright’s play starts with the end: a multiple murder/suicide shown in reverse slow motion. It then reverts to the beginning and it becomes clear that this play is about why this tragedy occurred, much like Sunset Boulevard. Wright has local roots, having attended a seminary in Minnesota before moving to New York and California to be a television producer and script writer. He makes Minnesota transplants two of his key characters: Sara (Mary Fox) and Steve (Jason Peterson). They are married and originally connected as a result of their faith in God. They are repeatedly praying and speaking in tongues. It becomes clear that. since their move to Florida, their faith has become insufficient to bind them together, as they each seek different things for their lives.
Steve believes he has the gift both to bring others to God and to be a successful Christian business man…but he has neither gift. His clumsy attempt to convert others only results in extreme hostility, even costing him a potential business investor. He believes he has hit the jackpot when a Swiss investigator promises to invest $9 million into Steve’s plan to create a chain of Christian-based hotels with the slogan: “Where will Jesus sleep?” He foolishly launches into the project, taking on financial encumbrances before he receives the $9 million that never comes.
Sara, on the other hand, is seeking to have a family and grows increasingly lonely as Steve is gone all day, putting his dream hotel deal together. Out of loneliness, she reaches out to her condo neighbor Sam (Kurt Kwan). Sam is a NASA engineer who has suffered great personal tragedy. He is also horrendously scarred from an auto accident in which his fiancé was killed; Sam is angry and has shut himself away from the world. Only Sara is able to ultimately connect with Sam when she quietly shares her faith with him. The last character is Karl (Hempleman), a pest exterminator who has his own personal trauma from when he was a boy living in Nazi Germany.
All of the action occurs in two condos that coexist in the same space on stage. Katie Phillips’ set design emphasizes the religious nature of the play with its cathedral window arches that almost look like a clock counting down to the moment when everything explodes.
This 90-minute show runs without an intermission and, even though the audience already knows the ultimate result, the intensity of the actors keep the audience anxious to see what triggered the carnage. As the show ends, the audience is left numb.
Grace plays through March 5 at Yellow Tree Theatre in Osseo, MN.