Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Singin' in the Rain
Morning after Grace is one act, about 90 minutes, and begins as a comedythink good situation comedy. About two thirds of the way through it becomes more dramatic, but unlike a "Golden Girls" episode, it does not find its way back to comedy. In the hands of an inferior director, such a strong change of tone could sabotage this script, but director Peter Amster and the author ground these characters in enough honest emotion that the audience wants to continue the emotional journey with them.
I don't want to give much of the plot away, as the element of surprise and the unexpected (not the same thing, really) is very important. It involves a man and a woman, not married to each other, and Ollie, a neighbor who has connections to both. The play examines the possibilities for love among older people and what that love might look like. It plays well in Sarasota, home to a large retirement age population.
Catherine Smitko plays Abigail and does so with élan. Her character is regaining a joie de vivre after passing through some bleaker emotional times. Jack Wetherall is Angus, the character who has the real rollercoaster ride, emotionally. David Alan Anderson plays neighbor Ollie, and this role has just as much meat on it as the others. All three actors give excellent performances which helps the problems within the script.
The direction by Mr. Amster is probably the backbone of this wonderful production. Up to now I have only seen Mr. Amster direct comedies, and he always does so with a keen eye for the genre. Here he shows emotional depth I have never seen before. He makes a potentially intimate play big enough to fill a 500-seat theater by having his actors play the emotions big. Played in a 200 seat theater, Morning after Grace could become a quite different play. Whenever there is a stage full of fine performances, there is fine directing.
All of the technical wizardry available in an Asolo Rep production is on view. Robert Mark Morgan provides the vivid scenic design of a meticulously detailed living room and kitchen, depicting upscale Florida retirement living. Costume design by David Covach is perfect for these characters and this time and place. Lighting design by Paul Miller and sound design by Matthew Parker are up to Asolo's exalted standards.
Morning after Grace, especially in a production as good as this one, is a welcome addition to the limited number of plays about older people not presented as stereotypes but flesh and blood, emotionally rich people. I'm pretty sure Sarasota audiences are going to like this one.
Asolo Repertory Theatre's Morning after Grace, through March 3, 2018, at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, call the box office at 941-351-8000 or visit www.asolorep.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):