Review by Caitlin Baird – Showbill.ca Contributor
January 27, 2016
Joan MacLeod’s Gracie is an empathetic examination of a young girl’s life within a secretive polygamous Mormon sect living in Bountiful, an isolated community in northern B.C. Gracie tells a powerful story while remaining open and uncritical.
Gracie is commissioned by the Belfry and deftly directed by Alberta Theatre Project’s Vanessa Porteous. MacLeod avoids sensationalizing the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church). We see forced marriages, discarded young men, miseducation and poverty through Gracie’s family. Story and character take precedent over judgment. Gracie is human: flawed and delightful.
Lili Beaudoin is a pleasure to watch, radiating an innocent charm which makes her believable as a young girl. She maintains energy through the 90 minutes despite a handful of fumbled lines.
Effective mime choices show Gracie’s changing stature, both physically and within her family. She is newly arrived in Bountiful and her step-father’s hand is high above her. She stoops to interact with her young siblings. We follow her easily through consistent locations with the help of excellent lighting design (Narda McCarroll), despite being alone on stage with minimal props.
Beaudoin’s generically southern accent provides atmosphere but is not the soft sounds of FLDS members from the Utah/Arizona border. She maintains the voice throughout despite the play spanning nearly eight years.
Though other characters are clearly defined through physicality and posture – one of Beaudoin’s strengths – for the most part their voices blend with Gracie’s own.
Her reserved, sometimes cautious performance works in the production’s favour. Bright childhood passions fade as Gracie follows her prophet’s instructions: Be sweet. Her naivete creates a psychic distance beneficial for the audience, cushioning us from the full weight of trauma. Gracie’s eventual cathartic release is effective precisely because of Beaudoin’s earlier restraint – a glance around last night saw many wet faces in the final scenes.
Set design, while providing levels and caches, is bland. Flat grey except for a slightly browned once-used riverbed, the playing space works well mainly through the smart, rich lighting choices. Rising behind is what must be a mountain range but instead appears cavelike. It looms, underutilized.
Costume design is spot on and the few props provide perfect realism. But lighting is the strongest element of Gracie‘s design. Shapely spots can be claustrophobic or safe; a dappled forest contrasts a bright, overwhelming city. Sound design is competent but predictable, though there are some moving moments when a familiar sound does not reappear.
Music is used to indicate leaps in time. Gracie’s age is best gauged by mentions of her younger siblings, which often appear midway through. But doing this math pulls us out of the story. Without these musical transitions, time would feel more fluid and Gracie’s specific age wouldn’t be of such concern.
The Bottom Line
Gracie is a pleasure to watch despite some issues with voice set design blending together