With a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dramaturgy/Dramatic Criticism, Alyssa Dyksterhouse has over 20 years of professional theater experience. She recently returned from the living in the Pacific Northwest where she wrote about arts and culture for Seattle Weekly and Seattle Gay Scene.
(left to right) Laura Berner Taylor, Joe Lino and Evan Linder in Interrobang Theatre Project’s production of GRACE by Craig Wright, directed by Georgette Verdin. Photo by Evan Hanover.
By Alyssa Dyksterhouse
I cannot watch the news or scroll through social media without a reminder that the United States is growing diabolically polarized. People will argue about anything, and everyone is fiendishly certain that they are correct. Said divide becomes more evident when discussing religion. Science versus Religion. The Religious Right versus the Religious Left. Perhaps we need a reminder that at the core we are more alike than different. Fortuitously, Interrobang Theatre Project’s production of GRACE provides the bitch-slap we deserve.
Craig Wright’s script starts at the end of the story. Similar to a scene from Investigation Discovery, as the lights rise we witness a man wielding a gun over two dead bodies. Soon we learn Steve (Joe Lino) and Sarah (Laura Berner Taylor) recently relocated to Florida with faiths of creating an empire of “Gospel Hotels” when they meet their neighbor Sam (Evan Linder) who is experiencing an existential crisis stemming from a tragedy. From there each character is bestowed the opportunity to search their soul. What separates this from a Lifetime Movie Network offering is the thematic exploration of faith, love, and religion. Oh, and complex characters plus devilishly clever dialogue.
Under Georgette Verdin’s divine direction this heavenly hit is impeccably cast. As Sam, Linder strikes a bewitching balance between brooding and endearing. Lino’s portrayal of Steve, the antagonist, embodies his Job-esque plight. Walter Brody as Karl, the wickedly witted exterminator, generates thought-provoking quandaries. Berner Taylor’s portrayal of Sarah encompasses the character’s complex core of conviction and compassion. In fact, her infernal final moments continue to flash through my mind.
Pauline Oleksy’s set transports us to Florida complete with rattan furniture, a bowl of shells, and artwork evocative a panhandle state vacation rental. I could almost smell the salt air. Richard Vavrina‘s lighting vacillates from eerie to ethereal. Most notably, in the opening scene he fashions a hellish atmosphere via a ceiling fan.
The concept of Grace is tricky. Some—like Steve—confuse it with privilege or equate it with cause and effect based on deeds. On a religious/spiritual/otherworldly level it is—according to Merriam Webster—”unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification.” On a human level it is a “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency.” I think—regardless of one’s personal beliefs—more of the latter would be welcome in 2018.
Interrobang Theatre Project’s GRACE simultaneously reminds me of murder porn and Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. Craig Wright’s script does not proffer a happy ending or provide any answers but—like all good theater—it invokes inquisitiveness which ultimately has the power to transform theatergoers.
GRACE plays through June 3. More info at interrobangtheatreproject.com.