Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Awful Grace of God (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Confesson time.  This review is seriously late, which sadly is something of a theme concerning the production and me.  Because of circumstances both dull and no one's business, I was also late to the show.  So I missed the first of a series of very short plays which made up the evening.

The Awful Grace of God, a little unusually, are all written by the same playwright (Michael Harney) and likewise all directed by one person (Mark Kemble). The result?  An anthology with a much more unified "feel" and sense of theme.

Again, I missed the first one.  Feel bad about that.  Especially since I enjoyed all the others.

"Surrender" stars Tim DeZarn and Janine Venable as an elderly couple with a odd, shared mutual secret.  One each does not know about the other, even though it is the same secret--about still seeing and talking to their late son.  It doesn't have a plot as we think of it, but rather a gradual reveal of their relationship.  As such this avoids a problem with many such very short plays--a lack of wholeness.

The same cannot quite be said of the third, "Willy and Rose" all about two young people played by Agatha Nowiki and Johnny Whitworth, in a model room.  Here we have a compelling set of characters in an equally compelling situation (the Willy of the title is an up and coming hitman, while Rose wants him to stop).  But it comes across as an episode of a much larger story, without much by way of resolution although it feels as if it should have one or be part of one.

"The Long Walk Home" on the other hand works in exactly the opposite way.  James Harvey  Ward and Amelia Jackson-Gray play a married couple in 1950 New York, on the night and day when a crisis forces a choice.  He is a good man, but frustrated and--as we learn--living with the legacy of a drunken, abusive father.  Now when he gets drunk, he follows that same road.  At last forced to look at himself, he has to make a choice all alone in an empty apartment, suffering through a hangover...

"Need (Shelter From the Storm)" takes place in a therapist's office in New York and is probably my favorite piece of those I saw.  Therapist Marie Broderick sees an author/client (Ilia Volok the night I was there) who confesses his love of her.  She immediately diagnoses transference--well, of course she does--and he initially agrees.  Then rejects it.  He's been in therapy for years and years before he ever met her.  And what follows is his refusal to give up, to back down.  He does not threaten, even when annoyed or angry.  Neither does he make a pass or demand she love him.  But he does want her to acknowledge his feelings are real, and valid.  Although not instantly clear, this is what she's refusing to do--even to the point of lying about her life.  One of the most impressive things about the performances here is that I knew she was lying about that detail (there's also a break in her natural rhythmn in the writing, so give kudos to the writer as well).  But, and here lies the kicker, why did she lie?  Why can she not simply admit he really does love her, and he has every right in the world to tell her so?  From this question ultimately comes the climax of this tale, which remains complete in and of itself at under a dozen minutes.  No small feat!  Kudos to all involved!

"Through" ends the evening with what makes for a virtual one-man show, with Oscar Best impressively and magnificently playing...I'm not sure.  But I think he's a man in Hell, Not a place of eternal torment, but rather of forced spiritual evolution, of getting past the residue and flotsam of a human life and through to...what?  I'm not sure.  But I believed.  Chained to a stake, surrounded by weird images and listening to voices, this man changes and accepts...something.  And in that acceptance, the chains fall away.  He goes...somewhere.  I don't know where.  But I could not tear my eyes away, while striving to hear every sound, every word.  Powerful stuff.  Very powerful.

Bottom line--an extraordinary evening of theatre that left me very pleased (and to some extent even changed) at having gotten to experience it.

The Awful Grace of God plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm until Sunday May 28, 2017 at the Other Space Theatre, The Actor's Company 916A North Formosa Avenue, West Hollywood CA 90046.

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