Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Not Worth Reading


The Book of Grace

A play by Suzan Lori Parks

Directed by James Macdonald

Starring Amari Cheatom, John Doman, Elizabeth Marvel

March 2-April 4, 2010

Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street

Allegorical to a fault, The Book of Grace is a painfully blatant post-9/11 screed from the prolific pen of playwright Suzan-Lori Parks. Its bland, literal title refers to the name and scribblings of its simple-minded protagonist, who works as a waitress while her much older husband, Vet, is a guard at a border fence.

Into the couple’s life enters Buddy, Vet’s son with his first (now dead) wife, who brings along baggage both physical and metaphorical. At first sight, Buddy and Grace hit it off and have sex on the sofa; she lets her guard down with the younger man and shows him the book she’s writing—she hides its pages and her typewriter under the living room floorboard—which prompts him to start “writing” his own book with a video camera, change his name to Snake, and ready himself to become a martyr.

Parks never makes it clear what cause it is that so enflames Buddy/Snake: he has an unspoken grudge against his stereotypically hard-headed father, and when Vet returns home one day, destroying Grace’s book and angrily knocking her out with an iron, the young man surely has more motives. But The Book of Grace distressingly forsakes the human element throughout, despite the utmost conviction with which the three actors play their parts and skill with which director James Macdonald stages the proceedings. Instead, Parks has written a detached and nakedly symbolism play, to its ultimate detriment.

Most surprisingly, this playwright—whose poetic language has been praised to the skies in her previous works—cannot muster anything more compelling than The Book of Grace’s stilted, risible dialogue. It’s a worrisome sign when the most memorable speech is a recitation of the Declaration of Independence.

Filled with platitudinous statements, portentous voiceover (Grace’s book comes to life by chapter) and entirely unpersuasive relationships among the three principals, The Book of Grace is a Suzan-Lori Parks misstep that might have made a more illuminating op-ed about how the nefarious age of Bush morphed into the age of Obama.

originally posted on

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