Lucille Lortel Theatre, New York
“Theology has been a hot topic lately,” in bookstores and on stage, said Joe Dziemianowicz in the New York Daily News. In this new play by Mick Gordon and A.C. Grayling, Lynn Redgrave plays Grace, a Richard Dawkins–esque professor who’s “the go-to lecturer when it comes to debunking all things divine.” Yet when the curtain rises, we see her wearing an experimental helmet and goggles designed to electrically simulate a religious experience. The play then backtracks to show how she reached this pass, jumping back and forth in time but rarely becoming confusing. “It plays out like a puzzle that slowly comes together to reveal what’s happening.” The trouble began, it seems, when her beloved son, Tom, announced he was becoming—horrors—an Anglican priest.
“Grace’s fire-breathing response suggests that she would rather hear that he had opted for the white slave trade,” said Charles Isherwood in The New York Times. In these initial confrontations, the playwrights show sensitivity to familial and generational dynamics. But the play’s complicated structure blunts the emotional conflict between Grace and Tom, and Gordon and Grayling generally seem most concerned with “addressing the topical question of whether religious belief is an irrational superstition and a danger to the planet or an ineradicable human need and potentially a force for good.” They’ve picked a side, however, and that saps the play of drama. One particularly unnecessary plot contrivance, for instance, “unavoidably tips the balance in favor of Grace’s fierce opposition to religion.”
In general, the male characters in Grace are “less intelligently written” than the women, said Linda Winer in Newsday. Actress K.K. Moggie, as the prospective priest’s unbelieving girlfriend, adds a down-to-earth quality that anchors the airy debates. But Philip Goodwin, providing comic relief as Grace’s husband, just seems out of place. The biggest problem is Oscar Isaac as Tom, whose arguments against Grace seem far too tepid to justify a religious calling, “and he is no match for her passionate speechifying.” True, not many performers can hold a stage against an actress as forceful as Redgrave. Perhaps that’s why the best moments here come when the actress performs solo. Left alone at one point with her anger and grief, the verbose Grace succumbs to keening, and “her moaning comes from somewhere deep, where words fail.”