Rover’s latest show a graceful tour of family heartbreak
By Penny Rathbun
“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
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
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.