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Theater Review: 'Grace' -- 2.5 stars

Michael Shannon, Kate Arrington, Paul Rudd and Ed

Michael Shannon, Kate Arrington, Paul Rudd and Ed Asner in "Grace." Credit: Michael Shannon, Kate Arrington, Paul Rudd and Ed Asner in "Grace."

2.5 stars

Craig Wright's "Grace" makes for an insightful comedic drama that explores religious faith from several different perspectives - at least whenever it's not straining to be a bizarre and awkwardly constructed thriller.

Wright, who is making his Broadway debut, is best known as a television writer for "Six Feet Under," "Lost" and "Dirty Sexy Money." Some of his creepy and meditative plays produced Off-Broadway include "Blind," a modern-day adaptation of "Oedipus," and "Recent Tragic Events," about a blind date shortly after 9/11.

"Grace," which premiered back in 2004 in Washington, D.C., probably would have fared better at an Off-Broadway theater than as a commercial Broadway vehicle for Paul Rudd, Michael Shannon and Ed Asner, who are joined by Chicago actor Kate Arrington.

The show opens with what will ultimately turn out to be the play's climactic scene, but played out backward line by line, gunshot by gunshot.

After a blackout, the play travels back in time to depict Rudd as an evangelical Christian who recently moved with his wife to Florida in an attempt to build a chain of bible-themed motels.

Shannon portrays their grouchy neighbor, who survived a car accident that killed his fiancee and badly scarred his face, and Asner is a bug exterminator with a thick German accent.

Even if many of the scenes drag, Wright does raise some provocative questions about religion, especially as Rudd's character attempts to justify his disastrous situation and unwavering faith. But surrounding the story with violence proves counterproductive and eerie.

Rudd, who is best known for appearing in Judd Apatow film comedies, makes a fine dramatic turn, while Shannon gives an intense performance. But it is Asner who easily steals the show with a monologue relating to the Holocaust.

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