Grace & Glorie by Tom Ziegler. Directed by Carl Ritchie.
"You don’t question - You stay busy..."
Chase Crosley and Deidre Bollinger
In Tom Ziegler’s play, currently on stage at the Copake Theatre Company’s Grange Hall space, the hills truly are alive - and that is the problem Grace Stiles has to face in this two-person play. Grace lives alone in a ‘mother-in-law’ house on what has been her family’s property for nearly a century. She is approaching that century mark herself, and at the age of 91 she is dying. A religious woman with no church to turn to, a widow who has buried all five of her sons, she has returned home without her medications, without aid unless you count her great-grandson who charges her for every chore he performs. Into her life comes a hospice volunteer with a mission. Gloria Whitmore helps people die well. That is her purpose in life and Grace is her third person. To say that these two women have little in common is putting it mildly.
Both have history, of course, and those histories collide when Gloria reveals that she too has buried a son. However, that bond is not what holds these two women together during the final week of Grace’s life. The adhesion is as ramshackle as the landscape outside Grace’s window. Her beloved orchard is about to be bull-dozed and her Gloria’s marriage and her self-esteem are already under the steamroller. Total destruction of their separate ways of life ultimately forms the union between these two very different women and their growth, as they each experience some of what matters to the other one, is what makes this play special and unique.
Ziegler’s play enjoyed a short life off-Broadway in the late 1990's with Lucie Arnaz and Estelle Parsons playing the two women. USA-TV expanded the script into a full-fledged film with Diane Lane and Gena Rowlands. In Copake we have the talents of Deidre Bollinger and Chase Crosley.
Bollinger sometimes feels too over-wrought, too testy as the determined volunteer who finally has to resign from her volunteer position. Hospice workers are devoted to their work normally, but Grace, as Bollinger plays her, is more than just devoted she inhabits her assumed role with a weird combination of gusto and angst. Bollinger plays the angst to the highest degree in the first act and in the second act controls it better, making her character more believable than might at first be expected. Her finest moments are in the second half of the play and they are fine indeed.
Crosley is never off-track for a second. As the woman who fiercely defends her right to independence and to die alone, she is as needy as her volunteer. Crosley never allows Grace to become a symbol, however. She plays the role with an immediacy that at times threatens to inundate the audience with tears. In a play about imminent death and the years that lead up to its inevitability, there is lovely comedy and delicious by-play. Crosley gets inside every nuance of the role, every cadence-driven line as the mountain woman in the Blue Ridge chain. Each revelation about her life and its limitations comes as a small surprise to us and to Gloria, and every time this happens it surprises Crosley’s Grace as well. It’s a superb performance.
Ritchie has not only directed his two players beautifully, he has put them on a self-designed set that is almost more lovely than it should be. The production is an admirable one, and an excellent choice to close this season in Copake.
◊ 04-30-2007 ◊
Deidre Bollinger as Gloria
The show runs weekends through May 13, Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm. Tickets are $10 to $18. The Copake Theatre is located in the town of Copake, NY on Empire Road. Information and tickets, call 518-325-1234.