Two immutable facts have spawned eons of existential angst. To wit: We cannot go back in time; we cannot know the future. These great philosophical and religious questions have driven artists and theologians crazy in their search to ameliorate our mortal decay.
In "Grace," which opened Friday at Yellow Tree Theatre in Osseo, playwright Craig Wright throws together four damaged people in the Florida heat and pushes them toward a crisis that bends their psychic frameworks and changes their belief systems — even as they wish they "could go back."
Katie Phillips' set looms as a large pocket watch — ticking between scenes to a soundscape of gospel tunes. On the stage, Steve (Jason Peterson) and Sara (Mary Fox) appear as committed Christians whom God has rewarded with a Swiss investor who promises $9 million to develop a chain of Christian-based hotels ("Where would Jesus stay?").
Grouchy neighbor Sam (Kurt Kwan) has been scarred by a horrible accident. He loathes the Christian rock music blaring next door.
Karl (Terry Hempleman, who also directs) is a German immigrant who, when asked by Steve to talk about his "faith journey," tells this "Jesus freak" that the Holocaust forged his atheism.
Wright unspools these archetypes with a pastiche of sitcom humor and theological musings — a bit glibly for the heavy payoff. He is brutal with righteous Steve. Like Job, he will lose everything. Unlike Job, he enjoys no redemption.
Peterson's Steve is fragile — willfully dim, in over his head. "I'm not a knower, I'm a believer," he tells Kwan's Sam, a man of science.
Yet Peterson misses the deeper texture of this religious man. When Steve's life implodes, Peterson does not descend into the emotional insanity of that shock.
Kwan plays Sam as a depressive loner who finds faith in the attentions of a married woman — Sara. Tragedy has made him wise and sad, unlovable in his own mind. Fox's best moment comes when Sara relates a teenage conversion that reveals the hole in her being.
"Grace" is a perfectly enjoyable 90-minute parable, and Hempleman's production rides with Wright's comic instincts, never pushing too deep. (It's questionable whether it could sustain a penetrating interrogation.)
We leave wondering, regretting, hoping about our own lives.
Graydon Royce is a longtime Star Tribune theater critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.