BWW Review: THE BOOK OF GRACE at Catastrophic Theatre stuns audiences until April 24th at the MATCH!
Catastrophic Theatre’s THE BOOK OF GRACE makes good on the company’s promise of “we will destroy you” in the best way possible. The production is a well-honed punch to the gut that will leave you reeling and provoked. It is one of those shows you need to see, because it represents what I love about Houston’s theater community. We have some of the most amazing production companies doing the best work outside of the huge venues downtown. This is a great cast, tackling a wonderful script, and working with whip smart production design. You couldn’t ask for more from an evening at a theater. It’s a riveting show that is emotionally complex and physically draining, both for the actors as well as the audience.
THE BOOK OF GRACE is a 2010 play authored by Suzan-Lori Parks who is the first African-American woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize in literature for writing a drama. At the time the script was a departure for her thematically, as it dealt with a small-town Texas waitress, her border guard husband, and his estranged son. The husband called “Vet” is about to receive an award, so Grace encourages his prodigal child Buddy to return for the ceremony. They have been at odds for many years, and Grace hopes to create a healing in their rift by reuniting them. Little does she know that father and son are highly combustible, and it is only a matter of time before they explode at each other in dangerous ways. The play puts the emotional landmines of a modern family on full display. It is a play that often remains opaque, but that perfectly captures an unease that may be more relevant today than when it debuted.
One of the triumphs of the script is that three cast members equally share the emotional weight of the evening. Each actor gets a chance to take the spotlight, and showcase their strengths and intense character work. Directors Jeff Miller and Luis Galindo pull everything out of the performances, and it becomes a remarkable portrait of three people struggling to understand how they got here. There are extended monologues, complex conversations, and meaningful menacing silences peppered throughout the runtime. The piece is directed exactly as it should be, and it is amazing to witness.
Patricia Duran is heartbreaking as Grace, the waitress who simply wants the world to be a kinder and nicer place. The title comes from a book she is writing of heartwarming stories she tells herself to prove how wonderful the world is. When we realize her marriage and existence are anything but kind, it hits hard. Duran knows how to make us love her, and her physical work is amazing. She communicates nonverbally as well as any line she speaks throughout the entire evening.
Bryan Kaplun is fascinating as Buddy, the prodigal son figure who comes in with a hidden list of transgressions he believes his father has wrought on him. His role holds so many layers that the actor reveals in waves to the audience. He is an artist who knows exactly how to use a glance here or a sly smile there to convey volumes in a short span.
Luis Galindo (pulling double duty acting and directing) rounds out the cast as the father, a border patrol agent who loves walls and hates anything alien. He becomes a symbol of simple-minded domestic terror for both his wife and son. The audience knows everything they need to know from the first line, but Luis keeps his emotions boiling until there is a logical point to release them all. He unleashes something from deep within that had every audience member on high alert by the climax. He is fierce and frightening.
How all of these characters intersect, and what happens as a result is the fascinating part of THE BOOK OF GRACE. It truly is an acting show, but the physical production impresses as well. Ryan McGettigan has built a simple interior thrust set flanked by two outside spaces. In the middle is a huge screen which projects what the characters are talking about, and is used to great effect when Grace describes her book. Tim Thomson created the visuals for that. Tabitha Bounds has her work carved out as the properties pro who has to provide nightly an array of props that undergo a lot of beatings and transformations. Macy Lyne’s costumes are equally impressive in how easily they convey each character, and how agile they become in the show when called to do quick turnarounds.
There is nothing better than when you team up a great cast, an able production team, and an intriguing script to all work together in concert to create high art. THE BOOK OF GRACE is theater at its best, and it fires on all cylinders at every turn. This is a superior showcase for three of Houston’s best actors, and it’s a signature work for CATASTROPHIC THEATRE as they emerge from the pandemic as fiery as the company ever has been. THE BOOK OF GRACE is an uneasy watch, but it is fascinating and will leave you asking questions for days.
THE BOOK OF GRACE runs at the MATCH complex through April 24th. Tickets can be acquired through https://matchouston.org/events/2022/book-grace . Please note currently the MATCH complex does not require masks for attendees of their events, as they are recommended but not mandatory. Patrons are welcome to wear them, but not all audience members will have them on.