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Rearranging Grace

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.

Rearranging Grace
Nancy Butscher, Linus David Cate, Kara Keeley, Dewey Weber
Butscher stars as "Mom," who is basically trailer trash too poor to afford a trailer. A drunk raising three teenagers alone, Mom's mothering consists largely of telling her kids what's wrong with them and earning a little money by prostitution. Butscher's performance alternates between two notes: emotionally abuse mother and pitifully drunk seductress (and, when Mom sinks to the very bottom, both at the same time). Neither is entirely convincing. Mom's abusive lines are so over-the-top, she is impossible to take seriously as an evil domineering mother. Indeed, none of her kids seem to be scarred by anything she has done to them; they just treat her as a minor annoyance that is standing in the way of them getting on with their lives. Thus, Billy Bob, the teenager who would rather read philosophy than chase skirts, waves off his mother's accusation that he must be gay; and Grace, the middle daughter who thinks angels from the spirit world are protecting her, doesn't take it seriously when Mom says she should be locked up. Dewey Weber as Billy Bob and Kara Keeley as Grace are the best things about this play; they are convincing as relatively normal kids who have a seriously messed up home life.

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.

Cast:
Mom - Nancy Butscher
Grace - Kara Keeley
Billy Bob - Dewey Weber
Bo - Linus David Cate
Female Chorus - Laura Caputo
Male Chorus - Phil Young

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.


Photo: Douglas Kim


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