Grace Craig Wright's examination of religious faith — what it takes to maintain it, and what can destroy it — receives an intelligent and bracing outing from director Greg Johnston and an impressive cast. Jason Cannon plays fundamentalist Christian wheeler-dealer Steve as a big presence, a brash "prayer warrior" anointed by divine grace for a life of wealth and prestige. Sarah Cannon creates a smaller, all-inclusive faith for his wife, Sara; she's an afterthought to her husband, and Cannon finds a quiet loneliness that is vulnerable but not pathetic. Her scenes with Sam (Chad Morris), the disfigured neighbor who doubts God's existence, are the finest of the evening. Both Morris and Cannon give nuanced performances that ground the play in its most extreme moments of chronological distortion. Grace is not a heartwarming story, but it's affecting, adult entertainment that rewards its audience with something true and powerful. Presented by RiverCity Theatre through September 6 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle Avenue. Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors. Call 314-658-7200 for reservations.
— Paul Friswold
Sarafina Mbongeni Ngema's raucous, high-energy musical about South African students standing up against apartheid in mid-'70s Soweto gets a thorough workout courtesy of a young and enthusiastic cast. Director Ron Himes and choreographer Keith Tyrone have paced the show so that even when the story falters there's more than enough action to keep your attention. Add a crack band and a luminous performance by Sharisa Whatley as Sarafina and you have one of the most exhilarating evenings to be experienced anywhere in St. Louis. Presented by the Black Rep through September 14 at Washington University's Edison Theatre, 6445 Forsyth Boulevard (in the Mallinckrodt Student Center), University City, and returns September 19-21 at the Orthwein Theatre, 101 North Warson Road, Ladue (on the campus of Mary Institute and Country Day School). Tickets are $25. Call 314-534-3810 or visit www.theblackrep.org. (PF)