Lights Rise On Grace
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
August 13, 2007
The press synopsis for Chad Beckim's challenging new play, Lights Rise on Grace, calls it the story of "three desperate New Yorkers as they defy tradition, uncover and recover secrets." That's no joke. The three protagonists do all of the above as they try to make sense of the unorthodox love triangle they find themselves in.
Grace, an Asian American girl, and Large, an African American youth, fall in love during their teens, only to have their romance ripped asunder by Large's sudden and mysterious disappearance. Six years later, he just as mysteriously reappears to patch things up. It turns out he has been in prison for a crime that hits very close to home. During his incarceration, Large befriends Riece, a Caucasian man with more than just a platonic interest in him. The two men take care of each other on the down-low in jail, only to resume their assignations once they're both released. This become an increasingly tricky situation as Large and Grace's relationship heats up again, Riece befriends the young woman, and she is none the wiser about any of it.
Beckim's writing here is strong as he endows the play with palpable emotional urgency. I especially like the way he challenges and examines conventional sexual mores without being judgmental. The fluid sexuality of Large and Riece are linked more to their emotional needs than any kind of biological pre-disposition: labels like "gay," "straight," and "bisexual" mean very little here. Beckim doesn't spoon feed the audience and really makes them work, especially with the play's structure—an intentionally fractured, non-linear narrative that splits the events of the story up and cuts back and forth between past and present. It keeps the audience on their toes, no doubt, but is occasionally confusing, especially in the play's first third when locations and overall timeline are unclear. But, not to worry: Beckim skillfully pulls everything together after that, dropping just enough exposition for viewers to figure things out for themselves. (Another refreshing thing about Lights Rise on Grace is that Beckim automatically assumes the audience is smart enough to do so. Thank you for that, sir.)
The performances are outstanding. Ali Ahn (Grace), Alexander Alioto (Riece), and Jaime Lincoln Smith (Large) all bring a convincing fullness to their roles. Their acting is well-rounded and three-dimensional, full of both humor and pathos as each of their characters cope with their respective hungers, shame, secrecy, and emptiness. Director Robert O'Hara keeps the physical world of the play simple (only three chairs) while maximizing his options with regard to both clarity and fluidity.
Lights Rise on Grace is another feather in Beckim's cap, as well as that of his talented young theatre company, Partial Comfort Productions. They are not ones to shy away from difficult (and sometimes disturbing) subjects, but as this production shows, they approach them with panache and, yes, grace.