Somehow I think that, while my back was turned, somebody invented a new mass-marketing institution: convenience stores for playwrights. Stuck for a motive or a relationship to liven up your new script? Just drop into our 24/7 rewrite shop and select a handy coincidence from our extensive stock. Eccentric backstories, odd occupations, fashionably exotic diseases, improbable melodramatic encounters—we’ll give your characters everything they need. Except reality, of course.
The far too many American playwrights who have patronized that unhealthily convenient convenience store lately include Craig Wright. In his latest mishap, Grace (Cort Theatre), the facile coincidences, including all those cited above, flow, factitiously, from the outré flash-forward opening to the determinedly overwrought finish, guided along their unlikely path by slabs of borrowed gimmickry and dressy ventures into metaphysics.
None of which helps. When you strip away the cheesy decorator trimmings, Grace is just your standard tawdry adulterous triangle. Togged out in a mélange of faith-based kitsch and postmodern ironic despair, it looks ludicrously overdressed.
In a Florida apartment complex, a born-again couple (Paul Rudd and Kate Arrington), recently relocated from Minnesota, struggle to launch what they envision as a chain of “gospel hotels.” A stage gimmick (borrowed from various other playwrights, notably Alan Ayckbourn) makes their flat inhabit the same onstage space as the one next door, into which coincidence’s tidy hand puts a NASA-employed computer whiz (Michael Shannon), who conveniently happens to have been severely scarred in a grotesque highway accident that has destroyed both his fiancée and his already minimal religious faith. Digging even deeper in its junk-crammed pockets, coincidence allots their apartment building an intrusive, chatty exterminator (Ed Asner), who just happens to be the only Aryan atheist Holocaust survivor in Florida, complete with a Nazi-atrocity story he willingly spouts at the first inquisitive lift of a born-again eyebrow. His non-Jewishness notwithstanding, he also sports a full range of Yiddish-theater inflections.
The exterminator not only escapes the climactic carnage but also rediscovers both faith and his long-lost true love, presumably proving that God prefers synthetic ethnic humor to either piety or science. Asner handles his inane tasks amusingly. His three colleagues, stuck with material much tougher to animate, struggle patiently, Rudd with particular inventiveness and Shannon with the assurance and finesse that always make him a pleasure to watch, even in a role that requires him to convey unceasing pain.