There are moments in a successful theatrical production when electrifying performances take the text to somewhere so potent that you need to remind yourself to breathe…Utah Repertory Theater’s production of Craig Wright’s “Grace finds the desperate, yearning core that makes us need to believe in something.
Set in Florida, Grace focuses on a young couple, Steve (Johnny Hebda) and Sara (Emilie Eileen Starr), relocated from Minnesota on a faith-inspired mission to open a chain of Gospel themed hotels. On an opposite end of the belief spectrum are the other two characters: Sam (JayC Stoddard), still recovering emotionally and physically from a tragic accident; and Karl (Jeffrey Owen), an immigrant exterminator who saw the worst of humanity in Nazi Germany.
Wright’s play is at times uneven, especially where Steve’s abrupt shift from optimistic zeal to almost psychotic despair is concerned. Yet by framing the action at the outset with an act of violence that comes at the chronological end, and including another “rewind” moment in the middle of the play, Wright effectively explores what it takes for us to be able to keep moving forward.
The centerpiece scene for that idea is a moment of connection between Sara and Sam that provides a brilliant showcase for Starr and Stoddard. Both actors bring raw emotion to Grace’s grace notes; it’s easy to believe Sara and Sam have been touched by the spirit, and the audience might feel it, too. (Scott Renshaw) Utah Repertory Theater & Around the Globe Theatre: Grace @ The Sugar Space Studio for the Arts, 616 Wilmington Ave., through May 10, Fridays & Saturdays 7:30 p.m.; 2 p.m. matinees May 3 & 10; May 4, 6 p.m., $12-$15 in advance, $14-$17 at the door. UtahRep.org