A Day For Grace with Doug Vincent and Sam Llanas
This weekend the Next Act Theatre space on South Water Street plays host to a soulful and heartfelt autobiographical story. Storyteller Doug Vincent is joined by locally-born Sam Llanas (formerly of the BoDeans) in a fusion of music and spoken word. A Day For Grace finds Vincent telling stories of his father, his personal journey to fatherhood and the birth of his daughter Grace just a few years ago.
The show opens with a couple of songs from Llanas. "A Good Day to Die," is a sweetly haunting song that was inspired by the suicide of Llanas' brother Thomas when he was only a kid. Llanas sings with a passion that embraces the silence around his voice. It tells its own story in a very moving way before Vincent is welcomed to the stage.
Doug Vincent is a soft-spoken gentleman who has a tone and stage presence that matches Llanas' quite well. Any storyteller would benefit from back-up acoustic guitar by Llanas, but the original work that Llanas wrote to accompany Vincent's spoken word acts as a musical score that amplifies the emotional impact of quite a few moments.
Vincent introduces himself in a nonlinear narrative. At one point he was about to become a father. He talks about playing with his daughter and his wife. There is love between the three of them. But he'd been nervous leading-in to fatherhood. Like any of us with kids, he didn't want to be a bad father.
Vincent talks about his first time playing the role of father to a group of people suffering from autism. "My people," he says gently pounding his chest. (It is estimated that about 1 in 88 of the children born in 2000 have autism.) Autism is not an easy thing to cover onstage. Vincent speaks with a deep and deeply earnest respect for the people he worked with. This is so rarely achieved in dramatic presentations. It helps.
Vincent also has a deep respect for his father, who shared a love of baseball with him. Vincent played little league. His father was there for every game. (Last year 2 million kids played little league in the US.) There was something deeper there, though. His father held a deeper darkness that Vincent touches on in a lot of interesting ways . . . with the kind of autobiographical complexity that perhaps only adult children can truly delve into regarding their parents.
Vincent's father's darkness had an intimate relationship with the alcohol he used as medicine. (According to the National Institutes of Health, 15% of the people living in the U.S. are considered "problem drinkers.") Vincent delivers an interesting rendering of his understanding of his father's alcoholism from youth to adulthood that shows nuance and subtlety.
Of course, as an understanding of the alcoholism intensifies in Vincent's narrative, so too does his father's alcoholism, culminating in the suicide that marks the one major tragedy in the narrative. (tens of thousands of people die by suicide every year in the U.S.) That suicide is at the heart of the narrative, balanced as it is by the birth of Vincent's daughter grace. It's a bittersweet dichotomy that reaches a really satisfying conclusion.
Autism. Alcoholism. Suicide. Vincent is talking about things that effect kind of a vast portion of the population in any given year. Doug Vincent is only one person. These stories might have come across as somewhat tragically mundane, but Vincent's monologue acknowledges the realities of these things feels remarkably crisp and fresh.
The lighting scheme is very simple. Shadows are drawn around light. There's a special kind of silence between the words and the vibration of the strings in Llanas' guitar here. It's a really moving kind of silence that's difficult to describe. Whatever it is, it's the most memorable kind of silence I've experienced in a theatre in the past several years. It's a warm, deeply human kind of silence. And we're all there for it.