It’s always a pleasure when a play and its actors exceed my expectations. That’s what happened on the opening night of the one-act play An Act of Grace at The Gladstone Theatre. This local gem deserves to be seen!
Before settling into my seat, I knew that the play had won several awards at last year’s Eastern Ontario Drama League One-Act Play Festival. Well and good, I thought. I knew it had been written by Ottawa playwrite and actor John Muggleton, who also wrote the play Burn. That was an auspicious omen. Then the lights went down and came up on a frightening scene of two terrified men trying to shoot a woman who is trussed up in a chair with a hood over her head. Blackout! The lights came up on one of the men, Chuck, who turned to the audience and said that his day had started really shitty, then got worse.
The scene shifted to the other side of the stage where Chuck rendezvoused with his wife Julie in a cluttered small store. There, Julie shocked Chuck by telling him she has just signed an expensive lease on this store, which she wants to turn into a cute bistro. She’s ecstatic, but he’s appalled. It’s obvious to the audience that something is very wrong. The money Julie expects to use to set up her bistro isn’t in the bank anymore. Julie begins to cotton on – has Chuck been lying to her? Just how successful is Chuck’s financial planning business, anyway?
There’s another blackout and we’re back in the first woman’s living room. Her name is Grace, she’s filthy rich, and she wafts trouble like expensive perfume. She’s invited the two men—Chuck and Tony the lawyer—to her home for some purpose. But before she explains her reasons, she leaves them alone for awhile. Chuck and Tony know each other, slightly, from high school long ago, and dislike each other. Chuck is aggressively rude to Tony. Tony, after trying to be polite, fires a few barbs back at Chuck. Then Grace returns, makes a diabolical demand, and the three-way verbal cutting and thrusting get even more vicious.
When I read the bios of the cast in the program before the play started, my heart sank a bit. Of the 4 cast members, only one—John Muggleton, who plays Tony—seemed to have extensive professional acting experience. The other three—Josh Sparks as Chuck, Manon Dumas as Julie, and Dianna Renee Yorke as Grace—all seemed to have gained their acting experience in amateur productions. Was I in for a less than stellar set of performances? Missed lines? Histrionics? I needn’t have worried – all four actors acquitted themselves admirably.
Kudos to Venetia Lawless, the director, for getting such good results. She’s aided by fine lighting design by David Magladry, but somewhat hampered by the set design of Grace’s expensive living room. Instead of elegant luxury items, some of the furnishings looked more like purchases from a yard sale. The script, however, got a laugh from the audience when Grace said her favourite piece of furniture was a chair from Ikea…”Only $76! Everybody has one!”
The twists and turns the script takes, as well as the nasty self-centred characters, reminded me of the Tony Award-winning play Sleuth. I’m not saying Muggleton has equalled Anthony Shaffer’s devilishly clever script, but An Act of Grace does share some characteristics with Sleuth. Judge for yourself – go to The Gladstone.
An Act of Grace is playing at The Gladstone Theatre until September 13. The performance starts at 7:30pm. The play is 100 minutes long, with no intermission. Information and tickets are available online and at The Gladstone’s box office.