• By: Karen Temple

Twists, Turns, and Hidden Truths: ‘An Act of Grace’

He seems like a nice guy, and he must be, right? Chuck has an attractive, supportive wife, Julie (Heather Archibald), who has stayed by his side. Julie has been there through his journey from almost making it as a pro golfer to launching a second career as a financial adviser.

But things aren’t as they appear. From the start, the audience at the opening night of Ottawa Little Theatre’s (OTL) latest production, An Act of Grace, knows something is off with Chuck (Kurt Shantz). His selfish nature is clear; he fidgets and flails whenever he faces a tough question. His restless movements reflect his life’s downward spiral, which he believes can be fixed with just one lucky break.

The play’s final two characters are Tony (Christian Giansante), a lawyer who seems upstanding and dependable, and Grace (OTL veteran Venetia Lawless), a wealthy and manipulative widow accustomed to getting her way. Grace invites these two men to her country residence, setting the stage for the drama that unfolds.

Ottawa actor, producer and playwright John Muggleton (Burn 2022) has created a smartly written suspense that opens with a prologue that does a solid job of capturing the audience’s attention. Grace’s backstory is reminiscent of a gruesome crime that ended the lives of a Toronto almost a decade ago, but this is a work of fiction that takes twists and turns the audience does not predict without any of the horror.

The play is the study of desperate characters who are pushed even further outside their comfort zones. They aren’t bad people, just highly flawed. But aren’t most of us flawed? Don’t most people put forth a public image they want others to buy into, as Chuck did with his headshot advertisements on the side of the downtown bus? As for Grace, she is surrounded by the accoutrements of wealth, but among all her finer things sit an IKEA chair that she proclaims is her favourite.

An Act of Grace was first staged in 2019 at the Eastern Ontario Drama League Theatre Festival, where it won Best Production, Best Ensemble, The People’s Choice Award and Outstanding Achievement in Playwriting Award.

OTL’s version of the play includes the addition of a fourth character (Julie), and the all-new cast is directed by Lindsay Laviolette, who co-director OTL’s recent highly successful production of Murder on the Orient Express. 

Fans of OTL have become accustomed to the volume of productions that the theatre stages in a calendar year. This effort deserves praise, but it is a true win-win for audiences to see quality community theatre, both written and performed in Ottawa.

The dialogue is sharp and snappy, complemented by strong acting—a combination that’s a recipe for success. For this, we award the play four stars.

Catch An Act of Grace at Ottawa Little Theatre until June 29th. The show will then head to the highly competitive Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it is sure to be a hit!

★ ★ ★ ★

Director John Muggleton will answer audience questions after the performances on Friday, June 21, and Saturday, June 22.

Get your tickets at ottawalittletheatre.com or call Box Office at 613-233-8948.

Images: Courtesy OTL