Theatre Review: “Grace” at RVA TheatreLab
Richmond TheatreLAB’s production of “Grace,” written by Craig Wright and directed by Deejay Gray, starts off with a literal “bang” as a gunshot is fired and we watch McLean Jesse’s character, Sara, rise off the couch as the final scene of the play is played in reverse.
Sara is confronted by her husband for what the audience can only assume, at least I did at that point, is an affair with a man sitting to her right. As tensions are heightened, Wright takes the audience back to the beginning of the story.
Sara and Steve are a young, devoutly Christian, couple who recently moved to Florida in the hopes of opening their own chain of Christian themed hotels, “Crossroads Inns.” Through their quirky German exterminator Karl, played brilliantly by Eric Dobbs, the couple learns that their new neighbor Sam, a scientist for NASA played by Nicklas Aliff, has recently lost his fiancé in a tragic car accident. Steve innocently suggests that Sara check in on their neighbor as they are both home frequently during the day.
As Karl prepares to leave, Steve uncomfortably entangles him in a debate about the existence of God, as he is wont to do often throughout the play. Karl is adamant that there is no God and shares a very troubling story from his past during War World II when his family’s home was invaded by the Nazis.
This fact only seems to encourage Steve, who Karl begins to refer to as “Jesus Freak.” Their tense discussion and Steve’s increasingly harsh behavior towards Sara paint the picture of a man who is slowly unraveling. As the story develops it becomes increasingly clear that Steve’s business ventures are shady to say the least, and his delusional attitude seems to be pushing Sara farther away. As Sara spends more time with Sam they form a strong bond.
Director Deejay Gray has cast a very strong ensemble for this production. Every performance is equally strong. Sapp is captivating in his role as Steve, even as an unlikable character. He’s brash, curt, and overzealous. But, due in part to Wright’s excellent script, Sapp is able to portray him in a way where you almost feel bad for the guy.
McLean Jesse is as charming as always, conveying Sara as strong and no-nonsense. Aliff gives yet another superb performance as the wounded Sam. You feel his character’s anger towards what has happened to his fiancé and his uncertainty about his future. Eric Dobbs provides a bit of lightness to what is at times a very dark script. Although not a large part of the story, his character is pivotal.
Dobbs has a cool calmness about him that is an excellent foil to Sapp’s thrilling portrayal of Steve, even as he falls into mania.
TheatreLab is always innovative and creative when staging their productions and “Grace” is no exception – it’s presented “in the round” with the set being completely surrounded by the audience. Similar to their production of “See Jane Quit,” I fell in love with the idea you have the option to see the show on another night, from another angle, and have a completely different experience.
The set is very minimal, which was understandable as there is a need for it to be mobile, however I definitely think there could be a few more pieces added to make the stage feel warmer. As it sits now, it feels a little sparse.
The play is set in Florida, so it may be acceptable to add some greenery somewhere. There were some sound issues on opening night and it is believed to be due to cellphone interference so when you attend, turn em off folks!
“Grace” is playing through April 5th at RVA Event Space in Manchester.
Check out www.theatrelabrva.com for information
Jen Maciulewicz is theatre critic for GAYRVA.com and is a Richmond local. Jen attended VCU and holds a B.S. in Anthropology. She has starred as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes" and attended VCU’s School of Music. Follow Jen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenlaumac.
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