The audience sat in uncomfortable silence for almost 10 seconds at the end of the performance my theatergoing buddy Bill and I attended. Then someone started clapping and the rest of us sheepishly joined in. You can trace our uncertainty to the fact that none of us were quite sure what we’d just seen.
That basically sums up the storyline for The Book of Grace too. Here the older man is Vet, played by the white actor John Doman, whom fans of the great HBO series "The Wire" will recognize as the overly ambitious Col. William A. Rawls. Vet works as a border patrol guard. His waitress wife Grace, played by Elizabeth Marvel who’s also white, is one of those cockeyed optimists who seem to exist almost exclusively in plays and movies. And his son Buddy, who is portrayed by the black actor Amari Cheatom, may be a terrorist.
I suppose the casting could have been colorblind since no mention is made of the racial difference between father and son but Parks tends to imbue very specific meaning into every aspect of her work and so I’m pretty sure there’s some heavy symbolism involved here too. Like maybe a riff on how the white patriarchy of the U.S. has oppressed black folks and women.
There's potential there for one of those edge-of-your-seat or mind-blowing experiences. But it doesn’t turn out that way. I don’t know if it’s the fault of Park’s script or James Macdonald’s direction but I didn’t believe the world they attempted to create on stage. Or that the characters would behave as they do. I mean how many women would stay with a guy she fears may have murdered and buried his first wife in the backyard?
The production, which runs just over an hour and a half, seemed to drag on interminably. The one thing that almost—but not quite—saves The Book of Grace is the acting, particularly on the part of Marvel, who, as always, gives it her all and then some. (Click here to read a New York Times profile about her career.)
Of course being an experimental artist means that sometimes the experiments don’t work. Despite my disappointment with The Book of Grace, I’m looking forward to seeing what Parks does next. And I won’t have to wait long. For in addition to being intrepid, Parks is prolific.