There’s not a hint of grace in Company One’s haunting production of “The Book of Grace.”
Suzan-Lori Parks’ gritty tale of familial dysfunction could easily stand on its own as an ugly commentary on the human condition. But in the masterful hands of director David Wheeler, this disturbing piece becomes riveting entertainment.
Wheeler uses only three superbly talented actors and meticulous attention to detail in bringing this story to life.
Set in an ordinarily worn home in sight of a border fence, “Grace” begins on the biggest day in the life of Vet (Steven Barkhimer). The border patrol officer is about to be lauded for busting illegal immigrants driving a truckload of marijuana. His character is a rigid ditto- head (that’s a Rush Limbaugh fan, for readers who may not also be ditto-heads). And though Vet is devoted to the war on “aliens,” his real battle is with the aliens in his mind.
Barkhimer is superb as the uniform-obsessed hero, spouting the party line and bullying his family into submission. The fear he commands transcends the limits of the stage, filling the entire theater with the feeling you’re walking on eggshells waiting for the ticking time-bomb to explode.
Frances Idlebrook is equally impressive as his sad, resigned, abused wife Grace who finds solace in her writing and comfort in the arms of Vet’s visiting son Buddy (Jesse Tolbert).
Fledgling actor Tolbert, who recently logged a stunning performance in Company One’s “Neighbors,” displays the kind of raw talent any great director would love to get a chance to nurture. The authenticity of his emotionally damaged Buddy is gut-wrenchingly palpable, simmering quietly just below the surface.
Parks sometimes gets heavy-handed with her message, but the story, as told by Wheeler, speaks for itself.