Review: ‘Grace’ is riveting, provoking, and rightfully daring

If fighting for what you absolutely believe is right, real, and true results in a painful fall from grace, will you take that leap of faith?

At the final scene of Grace, a grimacing old lady drags her feet toward the crowd, her face bearing the pain of persecution. A breathtaking spectacle then ensues—no spoilers for now—and the theater gets consumed by darkness. The crowd stands up and erupts into thunderous applause, which only gets louder as the lights go back on, revealing the powerhouse cast.

It was only the rightful reception for Grace, whose actors brought the story of the 1948 Marian apparitions and rose petal showers in Lipa to life; a story that the late esteemed playwright Floy Quintos developed in a span of eight years, researching, writing, and rediscovering accounts of the Lipa Carmel controversy; a story that powerful forces have sought to repress over the decades.

A standing ovation for the cast of Grace. Photos from Facebook/GRACE in spotlight.

Grace tells the story of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns’ monastery in Lipa—the apparitions of Mary Mediatrix of All Grace and the petal showers that were said to come with miraculous powers. What begins as a jubilant episode for Teresita Castillo (Stella Cañete-Mendoza), the novice who first saw the visions, slowly becomes a fall from grace: with Mother Cecilia of Jesus (Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino) pouring her attention to the new noviate, doubt and envy creep up in the form of Sister Lucia (Missy Maramara).

Sister Agatha (Frances Makil-Ignacio), Monsignor Alfredo (Jojo Cayabyab), and the other devotees, believers of and witnesses to the miracles, get pressured and interrogated by forces above them: Monsignor Rufino Santos (Dennis Marasigan), whose motives for dismissing the apparitions are seemingly linked to the presence and influence of Monsignor Egidio Vagnozzi (Leo Rialp), the papal nuncio or the envoy of the Holy See in the Philippines at the time. And Fr. Angel de Blas (Nelsito Gomez), a man of faith and science, is burdened with the daunting task of choosing between loving the Church at all costs or trusting the certainties of rational thought.

From left: Missy Maramara as Sister Lucia; Frances Makil-Ignacio as Sister Agatha; Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino as Mother Cecilia of Jesus; and Stella Cañete-Mendoza as Teresita Castillo.

At its tense and gripping moments, Grace made me want to jump toward the stage and smack the “princes” of the Church: the men who were doing everything that they could to dismiss the miracles at Lipa Carmel. Of course, that did not happen—nobody in their right mind would do so—but my feelings made me realize at two things: first, the actors were riveting and convincing enough for me to feel sympathy for the oppressed and seething rage toward the oppressors. Second, and more importantly, my anger made me blind toward the more pressing questions and intentions of the play.

From left: Leo Rialp as Monsignor Egidio Vagnozzi; Jojo Cayabyab as Monsignor Alfredo; Nelsito Gomez as Fr. Angel de Blas.

See, I don’t think Grace doesn’t want us to pick sides. The narrative builds each character up in such a way that we can’t sort them black or white. GRACE exposes the intricacies of faith, the politics and power dynamics within a social construct like the church, the boundaries of reason, and limits of the human spirit. In fighting for what they believe is right and real, will the Carmelite nuns break their vows of silence and obedience?

Presented with opportunities to navigate the hierarchies of the Catholic Church with ease, will the bishops turn a blind eye and stifle their conscience? For people of the faith that are also stewards of science, when do they begin going beyond reason and believing in the supernatural? And if a powerful man of the cloth is doing things that may rile others for his “love” of the Catholic Church, can you paint him vividly as an adversary now?

The cast of Grace.

Grace asks you all these questions, but it does not expect you to come out of the theater with definite answers. GRACE transports you to a place where you can—or perhaps, should—confront these uncertainties, even amid—or especially within—a social milieu where criticism toward the church is almost automatically frowned upon.

But perhaps the bigger question that GRACE asks is this: even with the odds stacked against you, if you are so convinced of what is true, right, and real, would you be willing to go as far as falling from grace?

For tickets and more details about GRACE, visit their official Facebook page.

The new lifestyle.