MILWAUKEE - As a young
child, I was often told that I asked too many questions, especially when it came
to matters of faith. As a teacher, I vowed I would never discourage anyone from
raising legitimate issues and expressing doubts or alternate points of view. To
this day, I love the process of having my beliefs challenged. I have learned to
live with many questions and few answers.
The present Next Act
production, “Grace” by Craig Wright, is a perfect vehicle for provocation.
It may offend those who believe that they have discovered the truth with a
capital “T” or those who have never questioned their belief in a personal,
provident God. But to those of us who bumble along, trying, often in vain, to
make sense of our human existence, this is a play that honors those of us who
are still searching.
With a well-written script,
four very competent actors and a sensitive director, “Grace” becomes a
memorable experience. It is sometimes darkly funny, sometimes poignant,
sometimes frightening, but always engaging.
Each of the four characters
struggles with the precariousness of the human condition. Good fortune,
uncertain fortune, bad fortune - we all encounter each many times in a lifetime.
How we interpret them and respond to them determines our character and our level
of satisfaction and happiness.
Steve and Sara, a young
married couple, have moved from Minnesota to Florida, hoping to improve their
lot in a real estate scheme. Their new neighbor, Sam, has just suffered the loss
of his fiancˇe in a car accident, and has become disfigured, reclusive and
bitter. Sara and Sam become close friends, both looking for a meaningful
A fourth character, Karl,
the bug exterminator, provides a strange mix of humor and horror. He almost
becomes a metaphor for the futile process of trying to eliminate evil. In the
process of meeting these four characters, we encounter various points of view
regarding the existence of God, the meaning of human existence, and the panorama
of human behavior.
Rick Pendzich is perfect as
the revved-up, naive real estate agent. His wife, played by Libby Amato,
delivers her most nuanced performance to date. She is breathtaking.
Jonathan Wainwright again
astounds us with his sensitive portrayal of a broken, vulnerable man, capable of
being re-awakened to life and love. Wainwright has the sensitivity to just sit
on stage without saying a word and still communicate volumes. He is an amazing
actor when he gets the right role. This one is a very good fit.
The fourth contributor, the
versatile John Kishline, aces his role as the Holocaust survivor, the
exterminator of destructive insects. His scene near the end of the play when he
relates his rediscovery of a woman he once tried to save is extraordinarily
This is not a feel-good
play. If you are looking for vapid entertainment, “Grace” is not for you.
But if you relish encountering some substance and quality theater, this
production is worth pursuing.
“Grace,” directed by
Dave Cecsarini, runs through April 28 with six performances per week at the Next
Act Theatre, 255 S. Water St., in Milwaukee. For show times and tickets, call
414-278-0765 or visit www.nextact.org.