A Day for Grace is another Off Broadway tour de force by Doug Vincent, a writer and actor (and group therapist) who stuns the audience by playing more than ten people virtually simultaneously, indicating the switch of personality by gait, angle of the head, and distortions of the face, voice—ranging from screechy Southern belle (who sashays onto the stage and then yells to the wings, “O yeah? Did I butt into your big ass New York fancy play? Wall I’m SORRY!”) to a deep good ol’ boy jowly persona (his pop).
The play opens with Doug, a younger version of the good ol’ boy, hitching his pants and bugging out his eyes in an evening at camp telling stories to his kids with a flashlight under his chin to enhance the scariness—and his stories range from the deeply disturbing, to the droll.
Who is his audience? A collection of disabled, emotionally disturbed children there for the therapy whom Doug calls “my people!” and whom he imitates—not mercilessly, but with humor and gentle kindly jesting—“I like you Dougie.. do you like me?” “Yes, I like you very much”—endlessly repeated so that you know that eventually it becomes exhausting, but Doug keeps on. Recognizes he is family and friends for these children. Loves them, cares for them
He also makes us realize that he is one of these children. To the untutored eye Doug is not disabled nor noticeably disturbed. But as the play eventually shows us he too is disturbed. Child of an alcoholic family (“Colt Malt Liquor!”) and a father who was not only alcoholic but eventually killed himself by hanging himself in the basement. And whom Doug found, dead. And had to cut down.
Doug daily beats himself up for not having had the strength to love his father enough despite the daylong drinking of his “medicine” (“Pabst Blue Ribbon– PBR!”), to combat an excruciating spine disease. Or indeed, for not having had the strength and kindness to simply to have told his father—a “dog and kid magnet” loved by all but whom his son stubbornly disapproves—how much he loved him.
There is a short tragic vignette of the father, alone, drunk, on the bleachers of the Little League field, musing in despair on how much he loves his son but to whom his father is “just nothing! Nothing!”
Doug, in pain, wishes he had paid attention. Wished he simply had managed to drag his butt down to the basement in time to cut his father down while he was still living. He was too late.
But these are themes that slowly reveal themselves. The core of the play is the birthing of Doug’s first child, the worry over when the water should have broken, agonized pushing, worry over the umbilical cord wrapped around the child’s neck. A mean delivery room nurse who tries repeatedly to stall them from getting into the delivery room. And an arch Indian ob/gyn who tells his wife “Yes yes, I am very very good, it is all true what you have heard, but I need a little HELP from you!”
Doug goes into reveries on how much he loves his wife, how well she understands him, and how fearful he is for her and for the baby. It is evident that he is terrified and cannot believe that either of them will survive the childbirth process, no matter how hard he helps his wife Jessica to push nor how encouraging his words may be. Doug seems to feel cursed for lack of a better word—unable to surmount the pain and dysfunction of his family. How can he possibly have a living, thriving child?
“Push one two three, push one two three” He and Jessica repeat, endlessly. (“Oh this is gonna be the day for the dead baby” He privately expresses his inability to hope for a living child.) The triumphant birth and the sheer delighted disbelief of the father as he touches the fine wisps of his new daughter Grace—we are there with him. As we have been there through his life account.
In short the play is brilliant. The stuff of gasps, tears and deep belly laughs; a very intense audience reaction. At the end of the play the audience swarms Doug hugging him and touching him if they are determined to absorb some of his—well, grace. (Yes, it’s also the name of his newborn daughter). It is a lovely thing to see.
This is perhaps the second time a solo performance has had the power and beauty to reduce me to tears. It’s only running for a short time—go see it!
The show features amazing live performances of original music by Sam Llanas. Of Sam Llanas, guitarist and singer, I cannot do better than to quote the publicist. “His thirteen musical numbers serve as the evening’s touchstones, enthralling Greek chorus and riveting denouement.”
Photo at top: (L. to R.) Sam Llanas & Doug Vincent
The Day for Grace
Stage Left Studio
214 West 30 Street (between Seventh & Eighth Avenues)
For the upcoming runs of “A Day for Grace” in Denver, Chicago, New York City, and Boulder, Doug will be donating his proceeds to Boulder StoryHealers, the Junior Seau Foundation and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.