IN SUZAN-LORI Parks’ play The Book of Grace, which opens tonight and runs through April 24 at MATCH, there are no saints, but there is a family unit. Sort of.
Presented by the ensemble-based company Catastrophic Theatre, and set in an unnamed town in South Texas, the play stars Luis Galindo as Vet, a border patrol agent; Patricia Duran as Vet’s intelligent but fragile wife Grace; and Bryan Kaplún as Buddy, Vet’s estranged son from a previous marriage. Grace has somehow convinced Buddy to return home and try to reconcile with his father, who is guilty of some “unspeakable” act in the past. Needless to say, things go from bad to bizarre to the beyond, as the talented cast takes the audience deep into the world of what psychoanalyst Carl Jung called “the shadow.” But let’s back up a second. Who is Vet?
“Vet is what you might call a personification of toxic masculinity,” says Galindo matter-of-factly. “It’s hard to find anything redeemable about him. I think people will see this guy and go, ‘I know that dude….’ I’ve known several ‘Vets’ in my lifetime.”
And yet, Vet is a human being. A person with a past, who Galindo tries to imagine as a baby, before he lost his innocence. “There’s the rub, right? I can’t go up there and be Hannibal Lecter,” says Galindo. “At least Hannibal Lecter is charming!”
In addition to playing Vet, Galindo is co-directing The Book of Grace with Jeff Miller. “To have a Latino perspective in place at the level of director can give more insight into how that might be different from any other perspective,” says Galindo, who is third-generation Mexican-American. Since Parks does not specify the race or ethnicity of the characters, the Catastrophic Theatre contacted the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright to see if they could do the play with an all-Latino cast. “She said it was a great choice,” says the company’s artistic director Tamarie Cooper. “Given what has happened with the border and immigration in this country since Parks wrote The Book of Grace, it adds another interesting layer to the play.”
But The Book of Grace goes way beyond the news of the day. Galindo and Mills have discussed Parks’ characters in Jungian terms, specifically the aforementioned concept of “the shadow.”
“I would say Vet is a shadow aspect of the bad, cultural parts of this country,” says Galindo. “The racism, the toxic masculinity, the staunch adherence to the patriarchal nuclear family idea, and living proof that the American Dream is fucked up.”
As grueling as it can be for an actor to avail themselves to their “shadow” in order to perform a role with integrity, there is something healthy about taking a hard look at and dealing with whatever it is we might find frightening or repellent. Galindo — a seasoned actor who has acted at Stages, 4th Wall Theatre Company and the Alley — feels it is his job to go to those places and bring back what he discovers to an audience.
“Every actor’s job is almost shamanic,” says Galindo, once again referencing Jung. “The shaman goes to the underworld and does battle with dark forces in order to heal the tribe. I believe every artist does that in sense.”
The cast of 'Book of Grace'