Venue: Pulse Group Theatre (Redfern NSW), July 7 – 26, 2015
Playwright: Craig Wright
Director: Billy Milionis
Cast: Joseph Addabbo, Dudley Hogarth, Jeremy Shadlow, Nikki Waterhouse
Fanatically religious people are probably the most grating of all. Their narrow-mindedness and refusal to engage in intelligent conversation are frustrating, and their need to convert others’ beliefs to match their own is most infuriating, and sometimes dangerous. At the centre of Craig Wright’s Grace is Steve, an evangelical Christian man who relies on a blind faith that reveals itself to be nothing more than stupidity. Wright’s story is surprisingly textured, but much of the dialogue comes across cheesey and tends also, to be quite long-winded. His characters are initially interesting, but they prove to be too simple and obvious, and his humour lacks an acerbic bite that the themes require.
The production is not a sufficiently dynamic or imaginative one, but it is clear to see that focus is placed squarely on the craft of acting, and the cast is accomplished on many fronts. Dudley Hogarth appears in only two scenes but is memorable for the intense sentimentality that he moves us with. The performances are intent on finding authenticity, but guided by a need to establish a thorough naturalism, scenes can be uncommunicative even though an atmosphere of honesty is always present. Actors often look like they are performing at each other, and without a more presentational style, the audience is not consistently engaged. There is a lot of effort put into exploring emotions of characters, which often translates with too much self-indulgence. The cast seems to feel their stories powerfully, but they need to include us in those narratives, and not keep those ideas and poignancies to themselves. We might not be written into the text, but the audience is present, and we must be integrated further into the theatrical experience.
Like the “Christian Freaks” of the play, the production is lost in a single-mindedness that prevents us from getting closer. Like the zealots too, there is a passion on this stage that impresses. One of the messages in Grace is about diversity and plurality, and the importance of a generous spirit in our social lives. Congregating at the theatre remains an important element of any civilisation. For an hour or two, we are joined to find a moment of unity and peace, and hopefully leave with greater optimism about the world we temporarily occupy, but it is those on stage who have the greater responsibility of turning the mundane into magic, all in extraordinary style and exceptional grace.