Theatre | Grace | Ken Longworth

CAST: Samantha Lambert, Mathew Lee and James Chapman in Grace. Photographer: Phillip Ross.
CAST: Samantha Lambert, Mathew Lee and James Chapman in Grace. Photographer: Phillip Ross.

AMERICAN writer Craig Wright’s darkly comic play Grace has audiences sitting on the edge of their seats from the opening scene which shows three people in a far-from-normal situation.

Watchers soon realise that they have observed the story’s finale, with the action switching to the every day activities of two of the people, a married couple who have just moved to a new town, and getting to meet the third person, a man living in an adjoining apartment.

Circumstances lead the trio’s relationships to grow until unsettling circumstances occur. Grace is being staged by Knock and Run Theatre, a Newcastle company established last year that won the CONDA Award for best theatrical production with its first show, Suicide Incorporated. Like Grace, that play showed people in unusual situations, with a company being established to help people considering suicide to change their minds.

Grace is bring staged at the Civic Playhouse from June 28 to July 1, with a four-member cast – Mathew Lee, Samantha Lambert, James Chapman and Paul Sansom – directed by John Wood.

The title Grace refers to the way the devout young Christian couple, Steve and Sara, played by Lee and Lambert, try to influence others to lead similar lives. They move from a dreary neighbourhood in the northern United States to a coastal resort in sunny Florida with the intention of converting abandoned hotels into a chain of gospel-themed inns, with Steve considering names such as the Upper Rooms, the New RESTament and the Jew Drop Inn. While they are waiting for a Swiss investor to make funds available, they meet their neighbour, Sam (Chapman), an agnostic NASA scientist who lost his fiancee and half his face in a recent car accident.

And the trio encounter, Karl (Sansom), an octogenerian pest exterminator whose experiences as a child growing up in Nazi Germany let him see people as they are and lead to him referring to Steve and Sara as “Jesus freaks”.

James Chapman sees the characters as real-life figures. “No-one thinks they are the bad guy, but they all do things to each other that show them as being self-centred,” he said. “At the same time, they wrestle with the thought ‘Am I doing the right thing’?”

For Mat Lee, the story is very much like those in the plays Chekhov. “Everyone wants happiness and is waiting and waiting for something to happen,” he notes.  

Samantha Lambert points to Sara trying her best to voice her opinions but being continually shut down in conversations, leading her to eventually snap. 

Grace can be seen at the Civic Playhouse nightly from Wednesday, June 28, to Saturday, July 1, at 8pm, plus a 2pm Saturday show. Tickets: $31.60. Phone 4929 1977.