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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
GRACE
at the MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel

THIS I BELIEVE
By Bill Stevenson

  Lynn Redgrave,Oscar Isaac and Philip Goodwin/Ph:Ari Mintz

New Yorkers who are fed up with Presidential candidates flaunting their faith to win votes may want to check out two new off-Broadway plays. Mike Leigh's Two Thousand Years concerns a Jewish family's disapproval when an unemployed son becomes religious. And in Mick Gordon and AC Grayling's Grace, an Oxford professor becomes furious when her son decides to become an Episcopal priest. Though it sometimes sounds like a university lecture (perhaps because Grayling is a philosophy professor), Grace offers thought-provoking religious debate and an impassioned performance by Lynn Redgrave.

The actress dominates the play as Grace, a science professor who firmly believes in Charles Darwin and natural selection. Religion is not reasonable, says Grace, who calls herself a naturalist ( in other words , an atheist ). When the play begins, she's wearing a God Helmut in an attempt to find spirituality-or at least peace of mind.

The story then jumps back and forth in time. Grace and her husband Tony (Philip Goodwin) live in Oxford. Their son Tom (Oscar Isaac), a public defender, visits them often with his wife Ruth (K.K. Moggie), also a lawyer. When Tom finds his job is no longer fulfilling, he abruptly decides to become a priest, Instead of being perplexed and amused- like the characters in Leigh's comedy- Grace feels betrayed. He's going to be what he wants with or without us, Tony wisely observes. But Grace can't accept Tom's conversion, since she blames religious moderates ( including priests) for religious violence.

Gordon and Grayling do a good job of presenting the opposing viewpoints about faith and the church. There's a bit too much jumping around in time, however, and some of the monologues go on too long. Fortunately, the authors have written a demanding role that Redgrave throws herself into from start to finish. The proudly rational Grace turns out to be extremely emotional, and near the end of the 90-minute play Redgrave makes Grace's pain almost unbearable. Under Joseph Hardy's solid direction, the other actors have stirring moments too. But the play revolves around Grace and Redgrave commands attention whenever she's onstage (and even when she's offstage at the conclusion). It's a touching coda that should make just about anyone a believer- in the power of fine acting.

 


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