Only a very self-aware performer - or an astonishingly brilliant one - can successfully pull off writing a play and starring in it. Ideally, the writer, intensely aware of the performer's limitations, can tailor the piece to the performer's strengths, while the performer, acutely in touch with the subtext the author wanted to present, can go beyond the limitations of the actual words on the page. Unfortunately, Nancy Butscher, the writer/actress responsible for Rearranging Grace, is not that self-aware. The result is an incoherent and implausible script, brought to life by a largely ineffective performance.
The third son, Bo, illustrates another big problem with the script - adult actors are playing the children, and the script gives few clues as to their ages. We are initially told that Bo masturbates all the time and that he plays with toy cars - this could be a very young child, or perhaps a retarded older child. When we see him try to pour ketchup on a Pop Tart, it seems clear that however old he is, he is someone lacking in intellectual maturity. But later in the play, he seems nothing more than a sex-obsessed teenager. Grace has similar problems with age - in an early scene, she tells her mother she got her first period and hopes she doesn't get breasts. In the very next scene, she is asking her mother for a Sweet Sixteen party. Is she an extremely "late bloomer" (due to malnutrition), or did the play just skip ahead a few years without telling us?
The script's lack of clarity is endemic. The opening scene - with Billy Bob reading by the light of the fridge, Mom yelling as her husband's car screeches away, and Grace asking two people if they truly didn't have sex - is purposely confusing, and effectively so. The scene is subsequently explained - Mom doesn't like Billy Bob to study and Grace believed she had a visitation from Mary and Joseph - and the opening scene was an interest-piquing snapshot of the world we would spend the next hour and a half visiting. But the closing scene of the play is similarly unclear; we are left with the impression that everything will ultimately be okay for Grace and her siblings, and we have some vague idea as to how the change in their life came about, but the real substance of the transition is nowhere to be found. Perhaps Butscher envisioned a clearer conclusion to the play, but she neither wrote it nor performs it.
The MET Theatre Company presents Rearranging Grace by Nancy Butscher. Directed by Kevin Allen Jackson. Produced by Amy Gammon, Kevin Allen Jackson & Silas Weir Mitchell. Set designer Jack Daniel Cozzi; Lighting Designer Leesa Beck; Costume Designer Robert Hensley; Sound Designer Jeff Folschinsky; Technical Director Bo Crowell; Technical Assistant Joe Beck; Stage Manager Allison Gammon; Props & Set Dressing eileen's prop shop; Publicist Philip Sokoloff; Still Photographer Douglas Kim; Graphic Artwork Stan Freitag.
Rearranging Grace plays downstairs at the Met Theatre in Hollywood, Thursdays through Sundays, through June 29, 2002. For reservations and information call (323) 957-1152 or click www.themettheatre.com.