Review: GRACE

by Lynn on January 18, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Streetcar Crowsnest (Scotia Bank Studio) Carlaw and Dundas, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jane Doe

Directed by Andrea Donaldson

Set and costumes by Juanna Yu

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Projection designed by Laura Warren

Sound and composition by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Conrad Coates

Rose Napoli

Brenda Robins

Michaela Washburn

A docu-drama of a real event that was moving, sobering, beautifully written and acted.

The Story.  It’s a sobering docu-drama with touches of therapy mixed in. It’s written by Jane Doe, which of course is a pseudonym, as are all the names in the play.  In the play Jane Doe is known as Sarah. The play is about Sarah’s younger sister Grace. When Grace was seven-years-old she was raped by the father of a friend of hers. She didn’t tell anyone until she was 16 and then the news was revealed.  By this time the man and his family moved to the States. But Grace and her family (mother Diane, father Stephen and of course sister Sarah) went to the police and formally charged the man with rape.  This started a long legal battle to bring the man to trial.

In a way it’s an indictment of the legal system that seems to penalize the victim instead of protecting her or him.  That is certainly evident in the play. Information is revealed during the course of the play that makes it seem a satisfactory outcome will result. But there are twists and turns along the way.  The play asks where is the justice in such a system? A quote in the program says: “There was no justice, there was just a legal outcome.” Without giving anything away, one can also consider that there is a kind of just retribution.

 The Performance. The stage is bare except for chairs at the side of the stage and two standing microphones. To give that sense of the documentary aspect director Andrea Donaldson has characters often give their lines talking into the microphones, looking at the audience, as if they are testifying.

At first Sarah comes out to introduce what’s going to happen.  She wants to write a play about a terrible incident in her sister Grace’s life. We then meet Grace, and Sarah makes it clear to Grace—facing her, microphone in hand– she is only thinking of her well-being in this. Grace will write what happened and Sarah will add other touches, but this is Grace’s story.  When Grace was older she in fact was a writer so she would have experience documenting what happened, harrowing though it was.

What is also obvious in the production is how much this family loves and supports each other. Again Andrea Donaldson handles this beautifully; there might be an affectionate stroke of an arm, or a touch of a shoulder, or a kiss on the head that speaks volumes. When Stephen and Diane sit in chairs at the side, listening, her hand is on his knee and his hand is on her arm. It’s that tactile presence that speaks volumes.

Initially Sarah, played with exuberance by Rose Napoli, is bubbly and excited by the notion of doing something positive with this horrible incident involving her sister. As Grace, Michaela Washburn is calm and even laid-back. But later, Sarah gets angrier and angrier as the information comes bubbling up again. Brenda Robins  as Diane, is a loving, caring mother who just wants justice and comfort for her daughters. Conrad Coates as Steve, is also a calm, caring father. No one is hysterical, except Sarah in a wonderfully vivid scene towards the end. While the information is not graphic it certainly is dramatic.

In a way the play is not only docu-drama but also therapy—these people had to talk about this to move on.  I think Grace is an important play about trauma, facing it, moving ahead with what you think is right and even speaking out when you see something is wrong.

And it’s a fine production too.

Comment.  The writer identifies herself as “Jane Doe” because she wanted to protect her sister’s anonymity and reputation and that of her family.

Nightwood Theatre presents:

Began: Jan. 8, 2019.

Closes: Jan. 26, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

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