Grace, or the Art of Climbing re-creates the tension and power of rock climbing | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Grace, or the Art of Climbing re-creates the tension and power of rock climbing 

A young woman struggles with heartbreak and disconnection.

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Zach Dries

L M Feldman's Grace, or the Art of Climbing is a character-driven exploration of the world of competitive rock climbing that seeks to apply a vital rule of the sport to life: there is no shame in falling so long as you never let go.

Alex Molnar stars in the show's midwest premiere, presented by Brown Paper Box Co., as Emm, a young woman who decides to train as a rock climber in the face of her struggle with depression and the deterioration of important relationships in her life. Through her direct address to the audience and both real and imagined interactions with her father, her former partner, her friends, and her trainer, Emm's interiority drives the play forward. Her struggle with heartbreak and disconnection is as poignant as her mission to advance as a climber. But thanks to Molnar's careful approach to delineating Emm's strengths and vulnerabilities and the nuances in her interactions with the highly skilled supporting cast, the script's analogies never feel too overt. When the significance behind her physical and emotional journey becomes fully realized in the play's final moments, the catharsis is stunning and well earned.

Evan Frank's set design represents the climbing gym where Emm trains with enough realism to present a physical challenge for the actors but enough imagination to support the show's whimsical nature. Despite the limitations of a black-box theater, there is authentic tension and power behind Emm's triumphs and failures as a climber thanks to director Erin Shea Brady's staging and the company's meticulous interactions with the space.   v

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