Theatre I missed – Grace: Pulse Group Theatre Company. (Theatre Review)
A lot is happening in 2015. The omnipresent “day job” has kicked into high gear, and my own creative fiction writing is struggling to meet its many demands. As such, my reviewing has fallen behind. However there have been theatre, music, books and films I feel compelled to write about, even if my dates are off. So some catch up (as painful as that is) is in order.
Pulse Group Theatre Company
Pulse Group Theatre in Redfern (new space) July 7 – 26 2015
Grace is one of the corner stones of the religious practise, particularly Christianity, and it is equally one of the most difficult aspects of religious life to adequately understand. It hinges on the all important Christian belief in the engaged, suffering God. Grace is meant to be exhibited in at its highest when God provided his only son, his perfect son, as a sacrifice to extend his grace to all humanity. Grace is about forgiveness. It is about hope when all seems lost. It is a concept that rescues our perception of God from the either or situation where God is a divine puppet master pulling on the strings of a deliberately created flawed humanity who are too stupid to fully understand his intentions, or the cold judgemental god that allows evil to reign in the world because his way-ward creation brought it all upon themselves. Because of grace and the death of Christ, God is an engaged subject that loves his creation and suffers right along side them, and therefore offers a kind of hope in our darkest hour.
But how does one practise the concept of grace in our engagement with the human individuals around us? Of all the Christian practises, grace is one of the most difficult to get right, as often a proper execution renders itself invisible. As a non-believer, I see Christians as people who assume they trade good works for eternal life and grace is a function at he corner-stone of good works. However for that exchange to feel concrete it must be witnessed and grace is often killed by an attempt to expose it. Enter the painfully zealot christian caricature, the (usually) recently converted devotee determined to let their light shine, portrayed here as Steve (a really accomplished Joe Addabbo). This is a creature recently rescued by grace who is both excited by the version of freedom their new-found spiritual life affords them, and desperate to covert some souls into Gods army and move themselves up the ranks. A decision as big as devoting ones life to God always requires witnesses converted by your integrity (how else do you know its all real) and it is in this strange spiritual no man’s land that the Christian can find themselves in an unholy battle between expectation and result. A battle that strangely places them at a distance from the grace that saved them.
In his play Grace, Craig Wright has made a strong attempt to exhibit the concept of grace as it occurs within the bounds of Christianity, and he posits it against grace as it might appear outside of a Christian life. He is not entirely successful as too many assumptions are made about Christians, and non-Christians that result in shallow characterisation and at times trite dialogue, but he is fully rescued by Milionis and his cast, who revert all emphasis to the plays strengths, such as its structure and its textured use of an interesting theatre space. A painfully clichéd story snippet by a german tradesman is remarkably saved by actor Dudley Hogarth, giving us an example of thin writing fully recovered through artistic collaboration. But it’s the texture and layers in Grace that provide the most interesting food for thought. By peppering his play with both believers and non-believers, Craig Wright opens a door and provides an access point for conversation between the two disparate groups. Scenes are played out in people’s apartments, and they transition from home to home, sometimes like shellfish squeezing themselves into the others close-fitting space. It’s a great physical concept of recognition of the other, and Milionis moves his cast around beautifully, bringing the very best in the play to life. It is clear why the play was chosen, even with its lapses in meaningful dialogue.
Sarah is played by Nikki Waterhouse, another Actors Pulse graduate (along with Addabbo who is the standout in this production) and she skillfully navigates her transition between two men so that the audience never thinks to judge her or reduce her to a stereotype. the cast is rounded out by Jeremy Shadlow who has a difficult character to work with, as its the least properly formed by Wright, but as the showcasing of Billy Milionis reveals, great acting can overcome all sorts of obstacles and make a deep and resounding connection with the audience. On the night I attended Grace, the audience were deeply moved by the play, speaking about it terms of the powerhouse performances and the impact of such on their perception. You can’t want more than this from a night at the theatre – the experience of being moved in a way that will slightly change you through the course of night. A little touch of grace in itself.
Grace is closed now, but The Actors Pulse studio have revealed a new theatre space in Redfern that will no doubt be a thrilling addition to the Sydney theatre scene. Watch that space here.