Morning After Grace, by Carey Crim. Directed by Regge Life. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Steven Barkhimer, Kevin Vavasseur, Corinna May; photo: provided
"At our age funerals are better than singles bars."
The morning after a funeral a woman wakes up in the arms of a man she doesn't know and a new age of relationship issues explodes for her, for him, for us in Carey Crim's problem play, "Morning After Grace." Crim is a resident artist in her native state, Michigan, at The Purple Rose Theatre where this play premiered in 2016. It is an interesting effort that could still use a bit of work to clean up some rough edges that don't quite mesh in the final analysis. A three character comedy with some serious subject matter to be digested in a fine production at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, it lacks every now and then in the reality department.
The love affair that opens the play dwindles a bit when we discover the reality behind the bliss and yet it is a genuine romance that could sizzle rather than fizzle. Angus and Abigail have a true spark that ignites every now and then before flickering and dying between them. Each brings some honest issues into the match: his wife has just died and he has discovered her infidelity; her husband has recently left her for a younger woman and her vulnerability is barely hidden behind her professional counseling career. But as Crim writes these characters there is an honesty and an affection that cannot be denied. Each one triggers things in the other and parting is not imminent, although both seem to find it necessary at different moments.
Corinna May; photo: provided
Abigail is played by the outstanding Corinna May who has never managed to give an unconvincing performance. Her art is centered in finding the genuine emotions, the unswerving center of her character and she plays even the oddest moments with absolute sincerity and makes them work. In her hands Abigail is never lost, never out of the picture she has painted herself into in this awkward new partnering. Until the final scene, that is. But that is an issue for the playwright and not the actress; May does everything an actress could do to make it work.
She is abetted in the emotional accuracy department by the third character in the play, Ollie - a former profesisonal baseball player whose gay lover and lifestyle remain hidden away from public view - played with a very actory sensibility by Kevin Vavasseur. His role is a peculiar one and Vavasseur does not bring reality into the playing. I felt there was something obvious in the work, something that screamed "I am acting" which was not the case with the other two actors in the play and this threw a sense of imbalance into the production. It's not that he isn't a good actor, it is just that I saw him acting.
Even so, Ollie brings an element into the apartment of Angus and Grace, that makes the others sit up and take notice, which is a good thing. His scene of confrontation with his 92 year old father made Ollie into a man of both charm and neediness, a combination that suited the actor very well indeed. During his lengthy second speech in this sequence Vavasseur was at his very best playing a man acting out a moment in his own future. Here his performance style was apt and necessary and so very well played.
Steven Barkhimer; photo: provided
Steven Barkhimer plays Angus, the man in the middle of the dilemma of the play, and he plays with sincerity and honesty and emotional peaks and valleys. Angus has a lot of anger in him and when Barkhimer lets it loose it is a dynamic that makes you squirm as you laugh. There is more to be pitied, here, than censured as he lets loose his vehemence on Abilgail who serves him as temporary mistress, wife-image and therapist, sometimes with such rapid succession that his motives become confused and so does he. This is an amazing performance of a difficult role, one that needs to be sympathetic but often steps outside of that realm into one of revulsion.
Regge Life has moved his company as well as anyone could considering the deficiencies in the script. Originally to be played in one continuous act, even though the play covers at least a week or more in its four scenes, Shakes and Co has split it into two acts which works out well. Iain Fisher's musical bridges do help the scene changes, but near the end of Act Two while Angus has not enough lines to complete an important phone call, the transition fails and the play loses its grasp on emotional essences. It is a moment when the play could have ended, or the phone call could have come at the end of the next scene which also fails to play as genuine based on what we already know about this new "friendship." between Angus and Abigail. Her entire dialogue in the final scene felt absolutely wrong and unreal. That might have been altered by placing that phone call in this scene, allowing her to hear him, to see the changes in Angus that she needs to see and believe in. But the play is as it is for now, and perhaps Crim will reconsider her placement of moments here and try to make the ending as satisfying as the precurtain-up relationship must have been.
Patrick Brennan's set is excellent until an upstage door is opened. Stella Schwartz's costumes are very suitable to the characters for the most part. James W. Bilnoski's lighting is wonderful, with cold zones and hot zones where Life has staged moments that are underscored by subtle light shifts. The production is certainly a winner and the cast is as good as a company could be in this play. As a season opener for Shakespeare & Company it isn't ideal, but it does give fine artists a chance to shine in unusual ways, displaying morning after glows whenever possible.
Morning After Grace plays through July 15 on the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre stage at Shakespeare and Company, 70 Kemble Street, Lenox, MA. For information go to www.shakespeare.org or call the box office at 413-637-3353.