Review: 'Gracie' at the Martha Cohen Theatre

Vicki Trask 

OnStage Calgary Critic

New Canadian plays are an integral part of keeping the arts alive. Workshops and premiers are so much more exciting when you are witness to something brand new in the theatre community. That was the joy of attending the opening night of “Gracie” at the Martha Cohen Theatre. Alberta Theatre Projects’ Enbridge New Canadian Play, written by Joan MacLeod, tells the story of young Gracie whose family is assigned to another man within the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints community. She moves from her home in Utah to southern British Columbia and her life slowly turns upside down.

Co-produced by The Belfry Theatre in Victoria, BC and directed by Vanessa Porteous, this unusual coming of age tale offers interesting insight into a rather secretive and isolated world, giving a voice to a rarely explored demographic.

Lili Beaudoin plays Gracie with, pardon the pun, grace and ease; narrating her story while playing every character she comes into contact with. Her understanding of Gracie’s world is incredible. She perfectly embodied the naivety and heartbreak of this young woman. Playing all of these characters with an American mid-western accent was very impressive however I could hear Lili lose her dialect and movements as she continued to switch between characters. Each character she portrayed had a distinct physicality and when Gracie was speaking with them, it was very clear. Especially when two of her other characters were interacting, they became indistinguishable. The biggest thing I noticed was Lili’s use of breath. Her changes in character and thought were often muddled because of how quickly she moved between them. I think a physical or mental breath would have helped me follow along better.

Catherine Hahn’s set and costume design were on point. The simplistic costume was functional and worked with the character’s personality; while the set was utilized efficiently. I liked the nooks and crannies that helped the actress tell her story and I liked that each location in that story had a specific spot on the stage. Something that stood out was the fact that Lili seemed to run out of spots in which to play. Different locations were given the same focus and it was difficult to distinguish between them. 

The lighting design by Narda McCarroll made a lot of precise and bold choices, but it felt unfinished. There was specific lighting for each place and time of day but it was inconsistent. With all the different locations, I occasionally lost my setting. The use of square lighting felt distracting at times but I understood the intention behind the scene changes.

Gracie’s story is fantastically written and very well told. I encourage audiences to keep an eye out for an opportunity to see this beautiful show.