Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Book of Grace

Boy, do I got cul-chah or what? Two theater outings in two weeks, after a long drought away from the boards. This is more like it!

Last night, having nabbed last-minute cheap tickets just a few days before its run closes, Teresa and I saw The Book of Grace at the Public Theater. This is Suzan-Lori Parks' latest play. It is intense.

The writing is marvelous, and comprises several dimensions. There are at various points clever wordplay, ideas and ideologies playing off each other, deep drama, startling humor. Three terrific actors, one of whom, recent Julliard graduate Amari Cheatom, I guarantee we will be hearing more from.

The play is on its most obvious level a family tragedy, but the personal links with the political in sometimes obvious and sometimes less clearcut ways. The setting is a Texas border town. One of the characters is a Border Patrol cop. Parks takes us where we need to go.

Not necessarily always as far as I'd have liked, politically speaking. There are points in the play, especially in a monologue by Cheatom's character Buddy/Snake, where some strong statements are made that bring out the broader context for the family drama, but then this veers off away from the larger platform of social-cultural analysis and back onto the smaller personal-psychological stage. This leeched a bit of the impact out of it for me, but the character study remained powerful enough to make this overall a provocative, stirring evening of theater. In fact, I must dissent from the reviews in which bourgeois drama critics have taken Parks to task for what they see as her jamming her characters into boxes as archetypes rather than creating fully fleshed out real human beings. I can't believe these guys saw the same play I did. The characters are fully wrought, beautifully so. Whereas I wish Parks had taken the politics a little further, these critics can't bear that there are politics in the play at all, and concoct a specious criticism with which to scold her for the crime of acknowledging the world. Don't listen to them, Ms. Parks!

An unexpected added treat: after the play, there was a "talkback" with the playwright. We stayed for this and I'm especially glad we did because I found her comments on the background and process of writing this play really interesting. Particularly because I've been thinking lately about trying my hand at drama. It has always seemed a mysterious if not impossible form to assay, but something has been shifting, clicking, inside my artsy-fartsy little head and I'm starting to wonder whether I shouldn't try to get up the nerve to make an attempt.