nytheatre.com review by Josephine Cashman
August 12, 2006
Presented by Sweet Tea Creek, Grace is a series of vignettes focusing on women in various kinds of adversity. All the scenes have a distinctly South-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line flavor to them, but almost no one uses a Southern accent, which the language of the play clearly cries out for. Nevertheless, these women (and men) channel that elusive and indefinable virtue we call grace to strengthen their resolve and continue to move forward.
Daniel Baker's sound design is smartly achieved and a thunderstorm and the sound effects of a county fair are especially notable. Lighting designer Rachel Gilmore and capable stage manger Sue Abbott complete the technical team and their work adds a spicy Southern fried tang to the production. Melanie Ashley is a fine director and inventively stages her show; turning hollow wooden cubes into beds, back porches, and fairgrounds with ease and simplicity. Sadly there is the occasional misstep; the most conspicuous one is the all-too-short moment between a woman choosing to end a pregnancy and the nurse reaching out to comfort her. It is a touching scene between actresses Beth Anne Leone and Marcella Anise Smith, but it's staged in utter darkness. I found myself yearning for illumination, because that kind of compassion and courage is something that should be celebrated and not hidden in a blackout. The darkness seems to indicate that this is a shameful act, instead of one that deserves to be treated with respect, mercy, and dignity.
The cast itself is fairly strong, but at times they do not seem to fully commit to their acting choices, and it shows; which is not to say that there aren't many marvelous moments. The scene at the county fair where two women listen to their friend hilariously mourn the loss of her youth is a laugh out-loud experience. Jennifer Leigh Jones's display of vanity and comic dismay is marvelous, and Karen Sternberg and Kathleen Brown provide good foils as her droll and pragmatic friends. The scene that closes the show, about a man who sleeps on the floor in his house, is quite moving. John Long's character is like a weary Atlas, patiently waiting to lay his burden down. This scene also demonstrates, happily, that grace is not a virtue that belongs to women only. It's staged with a dreamlike quality and Long does an excellent job.
Sadly, many of the scenes are so short that we never get to truly delve into the lives of these characters. The audience gets only surface snapshots, instead of the full portrait these women so richly deserve and that the playwrights Shannon Thomason and Sara Thigpen tantalizingly hint at. The play feels unfinished, as the parts don't hang together as gracefully as the authors might wish. But it's a stouthearted effort, and perhaps if the scenes are linked, or developed further, the piece could be a sassy, Southern comfort—a celebration of women and of the human spirit.