Gracie gives us a unique insight into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church) by following the journey of Gracie (played by Carla Langley). The play starts when Gracie is only 8 years old and crosses the borders to move from a polygamous community in the United States to another one in Canada where her mum and older sister are supposed to get married. The mum becomes Mr Shelby’s 18th wife while Celeste has the honour to be a first wife. Gracie is lovable and “full of beans”. She tells the tale of her life in a Mormons community candidly. She loves to ride her bike, is excited to have a doll to play with but definitely doesn’t like arithmetics. We see her grow up before our eyes. Gracie is now 15 years old, ready to become a woman and ready to get married to one of the older men on her 16th birthday. But is she truly ready? Following an accident and her inability to “keep sweet”, she is sent away and for the first time she comes in contact with the outside World.
Gracie is a coming-of-age story. Informative it shows the reality of a community where women are forced into marriages with older men. Their lives revolve around getting pregnant and raising children while young men are used as cheap labour. But it is also the story of a family and the love they have for each other. Billy doesn’t accept this extreme patriarchal system and wants to protect his sister Gracie. There is a beautiful bond between Gracie and her older siblings. The fear for their mother when she almost dies while having yet another child. The motherly love Gracie has towards her younger siblings and niece and nephew. It would be easy to point fingers at the community like the old grannies who protest outside the compound but instead Joan MacLeod’s writing is gentle and full of humanity and shows the complexity of a lifestyle we know little about.
We come to care deeply for Gracie but also for her family even if all the characters are played by Langley. This is truly a testimony to Langley’s amazing performance. She owns the stage from start to finish. She changes tone and demeanour not only as Gracie grows up and goes from childhood to womanhood but also by creating a perfect picture of Mr Shelby, her devoted mother and her unhappy sister Celeste. She creates young men with swag and Billy transforms from a drunk revolted teenager to the caring older brother he really is. We can’t help but feel in awe as we realise she manages to paint a clear picture for us with nothing but a bare stage. Only few light and sound effects are used, the rest falls on Langley’s shoulders for 90 minutes. It is compelling to watch. And as we see her ready to embark into the future we are left wondering what will happen to Gracie that we have come to know and love over these 90 minutes spent in her company.
Gracie plays at the Finborough Theatre until May 15th.