Rover’s latest show a graceful tour of family heartbreak

By Penny Rathbun
Staff writer

“Surviving Grace” is about, among other things, what can happen in life once the reproductive years are a distant memory. A number of people reach the sunset years just in time to slow down and enjoy the grandkids or just in time to get Alzheimer’s disease and not be able to recognize them.

Rover Dramawerks’ production of “Surviving Grace” shows the effect this disease has on a family when Grace Griswald, a vibrant, spirited woman of a certain age develops Alzheimer’s disease. Grace, played by Alice Montgomery, goes from a typical, wise-cracking, guilt-producing, in-competition-with-her-daughter mom to a palsied old woman in a wheelchair and back again in a performance that is the center jewel in a sparkling crown of a show.

Grace is the mother that locks herself in a battle with her daughters that nobody ever wins even though all the combatants love each other and there is no logical reason for the combat. Montgomery wields her character deftly in sparring scenes with her daughter Kate, played by Sherri Small Truitt. Truitt’s performance glitters every bit as brightly as the daughter who now has to become the grownup as Alzheimer’s destroys her parents’ marriage. She imbues Kate with an overwhelming sadness even when she is at her razor wittiest.

Kate is a very successful television writer who is never quite successful enough for Mom. Mom makes disparaging remarks because Kate does not write drama. Montgomery’s Grace rings so true that many women in the audience know that if Kate were a successful playwright of dramas Mom would be unhappy that she didn’t write comedy.

Kate knows that too and can never quite get beyond it, even when a miracle drug temporarily cures her mother’s Alzheimer’s.

While Grace is losing the ability to recognize everyday objects or her husband, Jack Griswold experiences a meltdown.

When Jack becomes Grace’s primary caregiver he begins to resent it. “I want a life too,” he whines to Kate. Howard Korn’s Jack has a depth of character that takes him out of the old coot realm, although he brings some memorable comic moments when he returns from a trip to Miami a changed man.

Lorna, the Other Woman, is played by Laura Yancey. She is the reason Jack comes back from Miami with a new spring in his step. She and Korn together provide some much needed comic relief. When they do a little dance in their Roman costumes it’s almost possible to forget that Grace is still confined to a wheelchair.

Grace takes a new experimental drug that restores her to her former self for a short time. It’s a relief to see the return of the Grace from the first part of the play, but everyone knows she can’t stay.

Time ticks on and, like Bette Davis in “Dark Victory,” the sky will inevitably darken.

Through this harrowing journey Kate manages to fall in love with Grace’s doctor, played by Andrew Kasten. He’s the serious scientist and fun to watch at the same time. Given all of Kate’s neuroses, it’s a wonder he thinks a relationship is worth the bother.

Madge Wellington, played by Allison Davies, is straight from Divaville. Davies plays the part with such panache that even the gold lame turban cannot hide it. Madge is a TV star with faint hints of Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard” who turns out to be a decent person. Joe Porter is the useful one in the cast. He plays extraneous doctors, waiters and suitors, managing to give good value every time he’s on stage. In a few places he gets laughs with facial expression alone that fits with what is going on in the scene. He avoids the temptation to milk reaction from the audience from such small parts. Because of his skill as an actor he doesn’t have to.

There were a few gaps in the lighting here and there, but that could have been due to the limitations in the hardware. Mark-Brian Sonna, a first-time director with Rover, has burnished Trish Vradenburg’s script into a treasure that is not to be missed. Sonna, the cast and crew have created a show that is Rover Dramawerks at its best as they all go about “Surviving Grace.”

The show runs through June 23 at the Cox Building Playhouse in Plano. Visit www.roverdramawerks.com for ticket information.

 
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