‘Grace’: Broadway gets a taste of edgy contemporary drama

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Serious plays have a rough go on Broadway these days because of rising costs and an audience that tends to prefer musicals or star-studded revivals.

While I waited on line at the TKTS booth yesterday, most of the people around me were hoping to snag tickets to “Spider-Man” or “Chicago” or “Wicked.” I was able to get prime orchestra seats for “Grace” about an hour before showtime at half-price (although these days, 50 percent off for a Broadway play means spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $70).

So, it’s good news that Craig Wright’s tough-minded drama about murder and religious faith — “Grace” — is managing to finish up its limited Broadway run on Sunday.

Audiences lured in by three well-known actors — Paul Rudd, Ed Asner and Michael Shannon — are getting the sort of intense, challenging American play that usually opens off Broadway (an earlier Wright drama, the horrifying “Recent Tragic Events,” was an audience-divider at Playwrights Horizons several seasons ago).

With a title that doesn’t tell you much, I was expecting a comedy-drama, but this unsettling piece of theater announces its tragic intentions in an opening scene that shows us Steve (Rudd) murdering Sam (Shannon) and Sara (Kate Arrington).

Wright then literally runs things in reverse to probe — in 90 taut minutes — the circumstances behind a multiple murder. The set-up reminded me of the psychological suspense novels of Ruth Rendell — specifically “A Judgement in Stone” in which the British novelist names the victims and the perp in a multiple murder in the very first sentence, and then moves backward in time to the first meeting of her characters.

“Grace” gets much of its power from the terrific quartet of actors who seem completely committed to the play’s examination of the coincidences and seemingly unrelated events (an allergic reaction to insecticide, a determination to show some kindness to a troubled neighbor) that add up to an explosion of rage and violence.

The play might not fit into the current Broadway scene, but I’m glad that the producers and the actors were willing to take a chance on such a strong piece of material.

Joe Meyers

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