Toronto
2 min

One enchanted evening

Grace has the power of the city

SAVING GRACE. Playwright Michael Lewis MacLennan. Credit: Xtra files

Angels have come to North America again.



In Michael Lewis MacLennan’s Grace, a fascinating sequence of linked episodes about the fear and mercy of strangers, the angels are fiercely idiosyncratic, gloriously loopy and disturbingly strange.



They turn seediness into beauty and devastation into hope.



If my remarks recall Tony Kushner’s Angels In America, all the better – though I’m not making grand epic claims for MacLennan’s work, which is an impressive collage or mosaic, rather than a sweeping theatrical narrative.



Where Kushner’s great opus offers an apocalyptic vision of US political and social history, Grace offers a narrower world, segmented and urban – sleazy Parkdale. What this play lacks in ideological heft it makes up with flakey comedy and tender compassion.



Its structure deliberately exploits coincidence, for it is built on unexpected meetings of six strangers over a 24-hour period. The characters are instantly identifiable because they are emblematic of urban loneliness and frustration: Jared (Dylan Trowbridge) is a spiky-haired young punk who is really in mourning for his dead lover; Hugh (Ralph Small) is a middle-aged, failed executive in a rumpled grey suit having a mid-life crisis; Lonnie (Caroline Gillis) is a career woman in flight from her abusive husband; Paula (Marjorie Chan) is a young, desperately romantic and anxious young poet, Thomas (Anthony McLean) is a simpleton who is unhappy with his group home and Ruth (Anne Anglin) is a bag-lady who still hears the voice of her dead husband.



All these characters intersect in some way, even if it is by the irony of weird coincidence. And they are observed with amazing candour and much black humour. Some become protective or redemptive forces for one another.



The power of the city brings the characters together and makes them connect; the power of the playwright moves beyond stereotypes to a level of universal poignancy.



From the opening streetcar scene to the dark park at the end, Grace touches us with its guardian spirits. The “angel of the bridge” who rescues a would-be suicide is talked about, but it is the visible angels who first terrify by their strangeness but then, ultimately, show us a path through chaos.



Sharply directed by Franco Boni, well lit by Steve Lucas and compellingly acted by the entire ensemble, Grace is moving without being self-pitying. What could easily have become irredeemably trite is transformed in a small miracle of theatre.



Grace.

PWYC-$15.

Till Sun, Apr 9.

The Theatre Centre. 1032 Queen St W.

(416) 538-0988.