By Pam Harbaugh
Grief in various forms is explored in Carey Grim’s heartwarming play, “Morning After Grace.” But so is humor. Indeed, it’s the humor that gets us through grief.
Along with the human touch, of course.
On stage now at Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach, “Morning After Grace” is both a funny and touching production. The storyline begins in, literally, the morning after. The dawn rises and we see two sleeping figures under a blanket on a couch. There are a couple of large empty bottles of wine on the coffee table in an otherwise tidy home in Florida retirement community.
The woman, Abigail, wakes up and realizes that she not fully clothed. Still beneath the blanket, she grabs her shorts and wriggles into them while Angus still sleeps.
Her phone rings. It’s a friend and Abigail is delighted to reveal how “slutty” she feels. This is obviously not something typical for Abigail. Trying to find a robe, she opens a closet “et voila.” The closet is filled with colorful dresses and caftans.
That discovery sets her into a controlled tirade against a man she now believes has used her to cheat on his wife. Abigail calls for a taxi. Angus wakes up and they both quickly realize how they met — at a funeral.
“At our age, funerals are better than singles bars,” Angus says. That sets the play into a romp filled with one-liner quips and a couple of stale jokes until we find out whose funeral it was.
A knock at the door. They think it’s the taxi but it’s Ollie, a former professional baseball player whose father, even in his 90s, continues to reject him because he’s gay.
While the play nudges the audience into thinking they’re about to see an oddly dark sit-com about loss, it rises above that one note and takes us into the tangle of human emotions. Jokes dissolve into gallows’ humor, fragile shells are discarded and we get a glimpse into deeper truths. But you won’t need the hankies because there are plenty of laughs, especially when the trio light up a bong and decide to make brownies.
The production at Riverside boasts an impressive cast led by an impressive director who make it all look so easy.
Chris Clavelli, who directed Riverside’s excellent production of David Mamet’s drama “Oleanna” last season, brings a fun comic flair to “Morning After Grace.” He takes his time in the funny wordless beginning and sets the stage for both circumstances and character. His deeper dramatic current pops out when characters grow angry or hurt, or, at the end, when they become truthful and confront their futures. Clavelli’s cast all bring multi-faceted, tender portrayals. They have great ease on stage, making it seem like we are really voyeurs peeking into the lives of strangers we all know so well.
Cynthia Babak shows Abigail as a strong woman who has gone through hurt and is ready to get on with her life. Babak, who has had a very active theater and performance career, writes sketch comedy, directs and is also a playwright, so it should come as no surprise that she’s both fun and engaging on stage.
Tony Campisi finds both the deep hurt and abiding humor in Angus. He has such delightful ease on stage it’s a pleasure to watch him. It’s no surprise, though, because he has a bounty of stage experience on Broadway, Off-Broadway and major regional theaters. He co-starred with Kathy Bates in “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” and is a regular participant of the revered O’Neill Playwrights Conference and Sundance Playwrights Lab.
Keith Lee Grant is so winning as Ollie, a man whose body is as broken as is his heart. Like his co-actors, he has an impressive resume, working on Broadway, Off-Broadway, Playwrights Horizons, Yale Rep, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and much more. He’s also founding artistic director of the Harlem Repertory Theatre where he won awards for choreography and direction.
Scenic designer Emily Luongo crafts an odd mixture for the Florida retirement condo. An open kitchen shows contemporary tile work but sports an ‘80s inspired display of glassware on top of uninspired kitchen cabinetry. It all has a temporary feel to it, as if the characters have not put their own stamp onto their home.
But the most intriguing aspect of the scenic design is the foyer closet. Typically used for jackets, coats, etc., this closet, next to the front door, is stuffed to the brim with colorful dresses and caftans. It’s as if the woman to whom they belong has so much in her bedroom closet that she needs more space just for herself. That lends an intriguing comment to the woman’s character and one which needs to remain unspoken in order to keep mum on a few plot points.
On the surface, this is a simple story with simple, every day characters but they have such depth to them. They are so familiar.
“Morning After Grace” runs through Feb. 18 at Riverside Theatre, 3250 Riverside Park Drive, Vero Beach, Fla. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Wednesdays, select Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $65. For more information, call 772-231-6990 or visit RiversideTheatre.com.
This is a version of Pam Harbaugh’s review running in Vero News.