Now, if you're just some producer out shopping for a play to fill out your season, I'm not so sure Grace is the script for youyou probably don't have someone like the electric, incandescent Sarah Cannon to play the young woman (Sara) who revives a NASA scientist's life with a charming update of the "sinner's prayer." And you'd also need someone like her real-life husband Jason Cannon as her on-stage husband with his own wacky scheme to create a chain of Charismatic-style hotels. But if you do have a deliriously smart boy and girl like this, well brother, you've got yourself a play.
Chad Morris is the third side of what turns out to be a lovers' triangle, and gives Grace its emotional underpinnings. As Sam, he's the scientist who's recovering from a terrible car wreck that killed his fiancée, leaving him to start the play in a state of pure misery: limping around on crutches and partially covered in bandages, complaining bitterly of Sara and her Christian rock music next door. But all three of these characters go through remarkable changes, thanks to author Craig Wright and director Greg Johnston. It seems that Mr. Johnston's only possible torment can come from three interminable blackouts to allow for costume changes, blackouts that cast the audience into a dark limbo again and again. Someone should have told him that most evangelicalsand probably most NASA scientistsdon't really have a lot of wardrobe to choose from (like the perky little summer dresses Sara apparently brought down to Florida from Minnesota).
Dan Shea provides some essential plot points, and adds unexpected dimensions to the story, going from apartment to apartment spraying for bugs. But I have to step back for a moment and consider: in the hands of lesser performers and a lesser creative support team, Grace would almost certainly become a series of gimmicks and unpleasant parody. For instance, all of the action takes place simultaneously in one apartment front room that's really two different apartments; crucial scenes are played first in forward motion, then in reverse, or in one case (the orgy of violence), in reverse long before it's ever played out "for real." And of course, Mr. Cannon's indisputable embrace of all things evangelical gets a lot of appropriate (and sometimes inappropriate) laughter along the way. But his final big monolog, about how the Universe first pressed him into spirituality, is so good that you can almost see the stars swirling around him, as he trembles under their sway.
Of course, in real life, pretty evangelical married girls don't go around trying to convert broken-hearted young men. They make their husbands do it. But, setting aside that crucial little mistake (without which there wouldn't be much of a play to play), it's all a heck of a good timeshowing how vulnerable every single one of us is to temptation, and to the whims of fate. The various potential names for the Assembly of God-related hotels (put forth with Mr. Cannon's overwhelming enthusiasm) are very funny, and the diminutive Ms. Cannon's adorable cringing every time one of the young men explodes with anger should probably be trademarked or copyrighted or otherwise prohibited from re-use without the express written consent of this major league actress. And Mr. Morris' frustrated scene on the phone with Mac tech support, ending in an awkward encounter with a PC user, is a great moment in modern comedy.
Through September 6, 2008 at the Gaslight Theatre, 356 North Boyle, about two blocks east of the Basilica in the city's Central West End, and then three short blocks north of Lindell Blvd. Valet parking is available, in a very attractive neighborhood. For information call (314) 658-7200.
Box Office: Ralph Murphy