Monday, February 11, 2008
I liked “Grace” better when I read it than when I saw it Friday night. It’s a play about ideas, actually one main idea -- whether God exists. In performance it comes off as a debate and is lacking in theatricality.
This could be because one of the author, A.C. Grayling, is an ideas person, a philosophy professor in England. His co-author, Mick Gordon, is a respected director in England, but they let the ideas overwhelm the play, making it too talky.
I still found it interesting, though, and it was good to see Lynn Redgrave back on a New York stage, where she hasn’t been since her Tony-nominated turn in the delightful revival of “The Constant Wife” in the summer of 2005. Here she plays Grace, a wife, a mother and a brilliant professor. Her bold assertions on the “absurdity” of religion have propelled her to center stage in the public debate over the existence of God. But her private calm is severely shaken when her son, Tom, announces a career change from civil rights attorney to Anglican priest.
I interviewed Mr. Grayling, who has penned numerous books and essays about the nonexistence of God, for NCR and will run that feature after it appears. He told me his urgency to bring real debate to the forefront has grown since Sept. 11, citing “religious-inspired terrorism” and calling religion “a cloak for extremists.”
Grace voices this opinion, saying that religion gives cover to “the nutters.” In her opinion, religion shouldn’t be treated reasonably because “religion is not reasonable. Rigorous rationality, proportioning belief to evidence, is not cold, simplistic, logic-chopping! It’s the only outlook we can truly rely on.”
But Tom is comfortable with the undefinable aspect of faith. He cites the story of Moses meeting with God at the top of a mountain shrouded in clouds while the people on the ground were worshiping their own creation of the golden calf. “And the whole story is saying that God isn’t like any THING we expect. And that’s what pisses me off when the atheists keep on trying to tell me what sort of God I believe in. It pisses me off that they assume what I believe. Because they want me to believe in a thing called God. But I don’t. I don’t believe God is a thing. I just believe in God.”
I’m with Tom. Even with meditating twice a day I know I’ll never penetrate the cloud of unknowing, and that’s OK. I don’t need or want “rigourous rationality.” I experience God’s presence in my life. That’s evidence enough for me.
I’ve had the Grace/Tom argument with my friend Gina Hermans in Germany many times. Like Grace, she is a nonbeliever and wants all the world to be rational. And I say, why would anyone want to live in a totally rational world, even if that were possible? There’s nothing rational about love or the arts, to name two things I wouldn’t want to live without. As Ed Herrmann said when I interviewed him for Working on the Inside, “What’s the point of the arts as a discipline? It’s absurd to pretend to be somebody else, a rabbit or Hamlet. It’s silly, but it isn’t. We don’t begin with reason, we begin with feeling and insight. All of life is 99 percent nonrational. Reason is nothing compared to God’s love. That’s what makes us who we are. Reason is the first thing that should be dropped when you start exploring the spirit. You can bring reason to bear on what you find, but truth simply doesn’t happen that way.”
“Grace” sold out its run at London's Soho Theater and is now making its American premiere at the Lucille Lortel, running through March 8. Tickets may be purchased by calling (212) 279-4200 or online at mcctheater.com.