10/06/2012 12:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2012

Grace on Broadway: Let Us Now Pray

The play Grace, written by Craig Wright and directed by Dexter Bullard, takes stylistic liberties, showing the end at the beginning, and playing scenes in reverse, almost cinematically, so that the actor Paul Rudd walks backwards trying desperately to return to pre-cataclysmic grace. But as you can guess, some things you simply can't take back, particularly if there is a weapon involved, and you know, in theater, what happens once you see a gun. Of all the risks taken in Grace, however, the biggest is seeing the ever affable, perfect Paul Rudd pushed to the edge, as the maniacal heavy.

He plays Steve, married to Sara (Kate Arrington), fixed on a scheme to develop a string of gospel inns. He answers to an unseen person named Mr. Himmelman ("Heaven-man") who lives in Zurich. This divine plan brings this couple, who first met in Bible class in Minnesota to Florida, where they live in a complex near Sam (the excellent Michael Shannon), so near, the revolving stage (by Beowulf Borritt) shows the actors walking about their apartments in parallel reality, oblivious to one another. Terrible things have happened to their characters in the past, which has either called them to faith, or not.

Ed Asner in a show stealing performance plays Karl, the exterminator, who comes by to spray for bugs; he supplies comic relief, given a leitmotif: he always asks if he can enter the bedroom. And when Sara says sorry to his tale of woe, he says in faux German accent, "It's not your fault." So, who's to blame when nothing goes as planned?

On opening night at the Cort Theater, Bobby Cannavale, Steven van Zandt, Carla Guigino, and many others watched as circumstances unraveled, at times hilariously, to dead end. At the afterparty at the Copacabana, Paul Rudd seemed fine with playing a role against type. "I don't think of good or bad guys. I just try to get into the humanity of the character," he said smiling his trademark smile. And then he tried to convince a reporter of the merits of the gospel-themed chain. Selling a place of grace, he said, "This is no ordinary motel. This is high end."

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