The Book of Grace: You Can’t Go Home Again

Frances Idlebrook as Grace, Jesse Tolbert as Buddy, Steve Barkhimer as Vet

The Book of Grace by Suzan-Lori Parks, Company One, 4/15/11-5/7/11. Mature themes and language, sexual content, and stage violence.

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

What is the cost of forgiveness and reconciliation? What is the real threat? Company One’s production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ The Book of Grace explores these questions through an intimate scene between three connected, yet separate, individuals.

Vet, played by Steve Barkhimer, likes a rigid, controlled environment both at his job (as a border control officer) and in his home life. Grace, played by Frances Idlebrook, is Vet’s second wife and an optimist to a fault. She invites Vet’s estranged son from Vet’s first marriage to attend an award ceremony for Vet.

Frances Idlebrook, as Grace, delivers a complex performance with ease. Although her character is sweet and meek, Frances also displays the inner longings of her character. Grace’s strength is not an overt form of strength, but a will to survive. Idlebrook brings these subtleties to her performance, and one can believe that she has been a constant victim of abuse who has been dealing with it in the only way she knows how.

Jesse Tolbert demonstrates his natural talent (as he did in Company One’s production of Neighbors) in the broken character of Buddy. Like Grace, Buddy puts on a mask in front of Vet and holds his real thoughts and feelings in. A difficult task for an actor, Tolbert manages to express Buddy’s feelings without betraying Buddy’s paralyzing fear of Vet.  He also balances all of these weaknesses with Buddy’s desire for revenge.

Steve Barkhimer’s performance as Vet provides a frightening look into a narcissistic mind. Vet’s world is sacred and does not allow room for anyone’s ideas other than his own. He surpresses Grace’s curiosities by not allowing her to take an Algebra class or pursue any of her own interests. As for Buddy, Vet exercised control by committing atrocities upon Buddy when Buddy was a child. Although Buddy tries to be an adult, he remains paralyzed like a child. Barkhimer’s portrayal crushes the human spirit and allows Vet to remain the unrepentant abuser throughout the play.  As Vet, Barkhimer becomes a terrifying figure of abusive authority.

The Book of Grace explores the hopeless rut of abuse that victims can fall into while the ones in power try to control every movement and word. Parks extrapolates this theme from the microcosm of Vet’s family to the macrocosm of border crossings. The results are a powerful, harsh, fearful story that brings the reality of abuse to the forefront of the audience’s consciousness.  TNETG.  4/16/11.

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