Friday, April 2, 2010

Theater Review: The Book of Grace

Besides the Character’s Name, There’s Little Grace Here
By Lauren Yarger
The Book of Grace by Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Top Dog/ Underdog) offers some good performances directed by James McDonald, but not much grace or any real incentive to spend time with its three rather unlikable characters.

The night I attended, many folks in the audience snoozed through the 90-minute dysfunction fest and some who stayed awake reacted negatively, both physically and vocally to the depravity on stage.

The action takes place in Texas near the Mexican border as Buddy (Amari Cheatom) visits his estranged father, Vet (John Doman), and his stepmother, Grace (Elizabeth Marvel). The couple’s frumpy home is oddly designed by Eugene Lee with sand instead of a floor, a picture of the exterior of the house displayed behind it, and bags of sand at the rear where Vet has dug a hole for Grace.

Vet had dug one for Buddy’s recently deceased mother also. The exact meaning? We're not sure. Buddy, who apparently suffered terrible sexual abuse by his father, decides for reasons clear only to the playwright to accept Grace’s invitation to visit and attend a ceremony being held to honor Vet, a border crossing guard, for his capture of some illegals.

Buddy arrives and immediately has sex with Grace as though it’s a normal thing for a stepmother and stepson to greet each other after years of separation in this way. Then they sort of forget about it and start chitchatting with Buddy asking whether Grace thinks they’ll be friends.

“We’re more than friends,” she tells him. “We’re family.”

Grace is ever smiling to hide the terror she feels at living with the degrading, unkind Vet, (a stereotype of the bigoted, military type most pro-immigration reform folks imagine those who want to protect the border to be). She hopes that Buddy’s visit will somehow make things better (note to Grace: having sex with the son of your abusive husband is not usually the way to accomplish this, thought the border patrol guard who prides himself on knowing everything that goes on turns out to be rather obtuse….).

Her other hopes and dreams are captured in a book where she writes down things that make her happy: “evidence of good things,” which quench the thirst of her barren life when she revisits them. She keeps the book hidden from Vet, who doesn’t approve of writing things down. He prefers to keep his thoughts in his head where they are safe from theft.

Will Grace get to read her book? Will Buddy successfully bomb the awards ceremony to take revenge on his father? Will Vet get the crease just right on his uniform pants before he attacks someone with the iron? Do we care? The answer is no.

These characters are just too whacked for us to relate or to want to get involved in their lives, despite Parks’ attempt to convince us that the whole mess really is an allegory for the state of our nation. The good performances turned in by the actors are the production's saving grace, but we really don’t want to watch these characters past the first few moments of the play.

The Book of Grace runs through Sunday at the Public Theatre, 425 Lafayette St., NYC. For tickets call 212-967-7555.

Christians might also like to know:
• The show does not post a Mature Rating, but it should.
• Two males kiss
• Sexual activity
• Sounds of pornographic video
• Violence
• Language

No comments:
Create A Buzz About Your Book
Custom Search
Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

All Posts on this Blog