note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Powerful performances and graphic videography dominate in Company One’s electrifying New England premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’ “The Book of Grace”.
Although the play at times has inexplicable moments, celebrated director David Wheeler intensifies the three characters’ portrayals and interactions in this study of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Veteran Boston actor Steven Barkhimer is outstanding as border control guard Vet, who is about to receive an award for his outstanding work as a border guard, detecting illegal immigrants and a truckload of marijuana. Vet’s regimented, militaristic demeanor spills over to his personal life. He’s unyielding, unduly mistrustful, suspicious. He has dug a deep hole as a deterrent, he says, to “aliens,” (illegal immigrants), but also as a threat to his family.
Jesse Tolbert as Vet’s estranged, angry, resentful son, Buddy, and Frances Idlebrook as Vet’s idealistic, sunshiny, optimistic young wife, Grace, are riveting in this three person story of redemption and revenge that premiered in 2010.
Grace, who corresponded with Buddy for the past few years, while he was in the Army, invited Buddy to Vet’s awards ceremony and to stay with them, in South Texas, hoping father and son will reconcile. Buddy served in Afghanistan, was decorated and discharged honorably.
From the outset, Buddy rages, revealing that his father has committed unspeakable, unforgivable acts against him and his mother, who is deceased. Burning with resentment, Buddy, has ideas of his own. He remembers how, years ago, Vet dug a similar hole at home to keep him and his mother in check.
They haven’t seen each other for 13 years. Buddy’s mom died of undisclosed causes, but it appears neither she nor Vet wanted to keep Buddy.
Although Grace insists Vet is a good man, she is intimidated by him, and emotionally battered. She nevertheless looks for the good in people, reading newspapers and documenting acts of kindness and good deeds, highlighting the bright side of humanity and life. Secretly, Grace is writing a book, which she squirrels away, underneath a floorboard, for fear of arousing Vet’s wrath. Although she’s a waitress in a diner, she tries to improve herself. She enrolled in an algebra class, but Vet forced her to quit. He doesn’t like books, he says. He keeps everything in his head.
Grace shares her secret with Buddy, reading excerpts to him. She tells Buddy she likes snakes, (Vet’s nickname is Snake), so Buddy decides to call himself Snake. He decides he’ll write a book, too.
Buddy’s plans are venomous, though. He secretly films a video, outlining deadly consequences.
There are several powerful, moving scenes in “The Book of Grace,” that hold the audience rapt.
Eric Diaz’s telltale set of Vet and Grace’s humble home, bordered by the vast chain-link fence that keeps illegal immigrants and Grace in tow, is enhanced by Jason Weber’s video projections bordering both sides of the stage, adding time, depth, mood and dimension. Daylight fades to night, and the sky illuminates the vast desert nearby. David Wilson’s realistic sound effects are jarring at times, especially during violent and dream scenes.
BOX INFO: Two-act play written by Suzan-Lori Parks, appearing with Company One, through May 7 at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.; Saturday, May 7, at 4 p.m. Tickets, $30-$38; all shows, seniors, $30; students with IDs, $15; Wild Wednesdays, all seats $18. Call 617-933-8600 or visit www.BostonTheatreScene.com.