The time period of the early 1950s is well captured in The Ministry of Grace: in the clothes worn, the evangelical trailer camp, the oh-so-holy attitude of the white settlers toward the ‘heathen’ Indigenous people. And in the hypocrisy of the so-called Christian, whose actions do not reflect his words.
Playwright Tara Beagan’s story is based on the experience of her grandmother, whose children had been taken away to a residential school, and who had chosen to go south to find work in the California harvest. There is a hint of brutality from the husband, who is talked about, but is never on stage.
The woman, Mary (beautifully portrayed by PJ Prudat) whose name is changed by the evangelist to Grace, is featured in Brother Cain’s tent revival reading from the Bible. This is meant to prove how she has been ‘tamed’ by Cain to the Glory of God. She does it for the money, so she can get back to her children. What Cain does not know is that Mary/Grace is a healer, with power different from and greater than his.
She is befriended by Clem, who works for Cain setting up and dismantling the revival tent. Sheldon Elter is brilliant in this role, as Clem struggles to control his feelings of love for Mary/Grace. A humorous moment happens when he reveals that his real name is Joseph.
Stafford Perry undertakes the difficult role of Cain, demonstrating the wild polarization of his character. A minor but important part is played by Lara Schmitz – she is the silly white girl who is used and discarded by the evangelist.
This is by no means an uplifting play, but after a rather slow beginning it gradually becomes one of redemption. The Ministry of Grace is also directed by Beagan, a dual role not often seen in theatre, but in this case it seems to work.
The play may not appeal to all tastes – many seats around me became unoccupied after the intermission. But the moving story of redemption that followed was worth staying for.
The Ministry of Grace runs at the Belfry through March 1. For tickets, visit belfry.bc.ca or call the box office at 250-385-6815.