Shows from Third Rail are a treat for this critic. With each show, they do something that no other company can consistently pull off: They maximize every aspect of the production. Lighting and sound are precise and effective, whether reinforcing the action or powerfully dominating the room. Acting is top-notch—some of Portland's finest actors are members of Third Rail's company—and if you're looking for new work from engaging contemporary playwrights, Third Rail is a pretty good place to start.
Their current production of Grace is the third script from playwright Craig Wright that Third Rail has tackled in their three-year history, following 2005's Recent Tragic Events and last season's The Pavilion. While I applaud the company for their ongoing commitment to Wright's work—and see the appeal in the man's juxtaposition of intensely personal narratives with overarching metaphysical themes—Grace left me with that rare frustration of seeing a production that is better than its material.
Steve (Damon Kupper) and Sara (Stephanie Gaslin) are a young Christian couple, recently moved to Florida because Steve's faith in the efficacy of prayer led him to invest in a shady-sounding hotel management scheme, complete with mysterious overseas investors. Sara is often home alone, so she reaches out to her neighbor, Sam (Leif Norby), scarred and reclusive since the car accident that left his face mutilated and his fiancée dead. Doug Mace as an embittered exterminator with no patience for Steve's proselytizing (he calls Steve "Jesus Freak") completes the ensemble, which tips into tragedy as the limits of faith are tested.
The staging is some of the best I've ever seen: a generic living room in a generic apartment complex, so generic that the same set is used to represent both Steve and Sara's apartment, and Sam's next door.
Unfortunately, too much here is too big and too broad: the exterminator with the dark past, the neighbor scarred on the inside and out, the different characters each representing a different approach to religion. The material is epic in scope, with an ending worthy of any Greek tragedy, but I can't help feeling that a smaller, quieter desperation would've made for a more powerful meditation on religion than one in which questions of faith are resolved with gunfire.