by: Sandi Durell

When Steve (Paul Rudd) and Sara (Kate Arrington) move from Minnesota to Florida because they think they’ve been given an opportunity to open a chain of Gospel Hotels, maybe calling them The New Restament, all seems like a heavenly dream to this religious couple who met in Bible Class.

Steve, played straight on by Rudd, doesn’t miss a beat getting laughs without even trying, as he is anxiously waiting for the okay from an investor in Zurich who promises to wire him $9 million to fund the project. But let me backup, as does this play, done in flashback. The opening actually finds Steve with gun in hand foretelling a brutal ending.

Now we fast forward to the beginning of the story, the couple settling in their new apartment, an interestingly designed set by Beowulf Boritt of some rattan furniture with slow moving turntable rotations and a sky; it’s also the apartment of the upstairs neighbor, Sam (Michael Shannon in his Broadway debut), who is extraordinary as this character, is a depressed scientist who has lost his fiancé in an automobile accident and is horribly scared so that he wears a plastic mask covering half his face. They all roam about in the same set but they are in separate apartments, which eventually raises questions about just how connected we are to those we seem the closest, yet so far apart. These are inspiring directorial choices made by Dexter Bullard.

Enter the bug exterminator, Karl a German immigrant, the effusive Ed Asner, who is suddenly put on the spot by Steve who asks if he believes in God. He says there’s no Jesus, no God, no creator – you’re on your own, just mind your own business and all works out. As Steve engages him more and more on the topic, he says “What are you, a Jesus freak?” a name he continues to use throughout the play. You don’t fool around with Karl!

Sara, who is lonely and was hoping to have a child with Steve, befriends Sam. She is lovingly aching for affection and attention. Steve comes off like a car salesman trying to get Sam to invest in his chain of Jesus hotels because he’s been using his own monies waiting for the $9 mil that is now 2 months overdo. Sam is willing to give him the money until Steve starts questioning Sam’s beliefs about Jesus, which results in Sam taking back his check.

There are major issues raised about one’s piety and beliefs, whether or not there is or isn’t a God, as a romantic triangle ensues. Shannon, of “Boardwalk” fame, gives an award winning performance in this role.

The lighting by David Weiner is superb as is the sound design by Darron L. West. “Grace” has a limited run at the Cort Theatre on West 48th Street thru January 6th.

*Photo: Joan Marcus