Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Grace: A faith and atheism dialogue on stage

There have been a series of good recent plays that have tackled the complex issues of faith and reason on stage. Darwin's struggle with religion were depicted in Trumpery and more recently, Spinoza's atheism was the center piece in New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656. Now here is another play, Grace, that depicts an atheist mother in dialogue with her son who wants to become an Episcopal priest:
Grace, commandingly played by Lynn Redgrave, is a professor of natural science who appears to spend most of her classroom hours ridiculing the notion of intelligent design and giving rousing speeches denouncing religious fanaticism. Her atheism — oops, sorry Grace — her “naturalism” is sorely tested when her son, Tom (Oscar Isaac), reveals that he has decided to give up the practice of law to become an Episcopal priest. Grace’s fire-breathing response suggests that she would rather hear that he had opted for the white slave trade.
While the review is a bit lukeworm, the play still seems interesting (and it has a superb cast of actors). It is written by a combination of a playwright (Mike Gordon) and a philosopher (AC Grayling) and appears to tackle some of the science & religion issues seriously:

The important moment in which Tom announces his decision to his parents is, frustratingly, elided in the play’s overly fussy structure. But soon he and Grace are squaring off in heated debates about the possibility (or lack thereof) of blending faith and reason, and the best way to combat the perilous rise of fanaticism.

Grace, who initially dismisses Tom’s calling as a form of “teenage revenge,” later accuses him of complicity in the rising tide of faith-fueled conflict. “Your language and your beliefs provide the context in which Scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed,” she lectures.

Tom retorts: “You’re never going to turn the world’s religious into atheists. If that’s what you’re trying to do, you’re going to lose. The best we can hope for is to turn bad, violent religion into better religion, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

and as for the relationship between the mother and her son:
Ms. Redgrave, her captivating blue eyes glittering with righteousness, delivers Grace’s orations with a fine ferocity. She has a bravura scene in the play’s last moments, as Grace’s carapace cracks to reveal the wounded, desperate mother beneath the carefully maintained armature of the intellectual. But all the humanity in the performance seems to be cordoned off into this scene; earlier intimations that Grace is not just appalled but also anguished at her son’s decision would give the play more nuance.

There is also a mention of The Matrix in the play in reference to religion (huh??). But I guess, I'll have to see the play to make any comments on that. Its playing at the Lucille Lortel Theater (NYC) until March 8th.

Read the full review here.


hedge said...

Did you get a chance to see either Trumpery or New Jerusalem?

I think this is a promising direction for theatre, where the tradition if not the faith of religion have seemed revered in many ways (often used for dramatic purposes, but rarely explored as problematic). It may take a few years to get out to MN, though. It seems like everything here lately has been about dominatrix mothers or genderqueer fathers.


Salman Hameed said...

No, both of these played for a short period of time and I didn't get a chance to go to New York during that time. However, I'm hoping that these will show up at some theater in Boston or New Haven. Who knows, one of these may show up in Minnesota also...

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