Encore Michigan

“Morning After Grace” graceful and funny at The Purple Rose

Review October 08, 2016 Patrice Nolan

CHELSEA, Mich. – Morning After Grace, by Carey Crim, is quite possibly the perfect play to kick off the Purple Rose Theatre Company’s new season. After all, the troupe boasts a successful string of world premieres by the award-winning Michigan playwright, who is also a PRTC Resident Artist. That means the quality of the partnership is a proven commodity—which lends a certain box office equity that’s always nice to find in a season opener.

But this newest play by Crim is a perfect fit for the Purple Rose in a more deliberate way. It is the kind of comedy at which Guy Sanville and the PRTC company excel in developing and bringing to life. It is a delightful farce without being shallow; it is thought-provoking without being pretentious; it points to social injustices but never puffs up with self-righteous indignation. It makes no demands, but somehow seduces us into caring about what happens to the three 60-years-plus adults whose stories unfold across the intimate Purple Rose stage.

The set design by Bartley H. Bauer, lit by Dana L. White, precisely reflects all the cues of an upscale retirement condo that feels a bit too sterile for comfort. Sound design by Tom Whalen supports and foreshadows the story, with the sound of a crashing ocean wave surrounding us even as the lights dim for the first scene.

The play opens as a hungover Angus (Randolf Mantooth) stumbles into his living room only to collapse on the couch next to a bunched up down comforter. As he nods back off, the comforter comes to life, revealing the slightly disheveled, happy but embarrassed Abigail (Michelle Mountain), who begins searching for her clothing. In short order, we discover that the two met at a funeral, consoled each other over some wine, and ended up sleeping together. Before they can sort out whether this was a simple one-night fling or something more meaningful, Angus’s neighbor Ollie invites himself in and the dynamic shifts perceptibly.

The play uses classical comedic forms in fresh ways; each character discovers something about the others and leaps to a false assumption. Abigail feels betrayed by Angus, who she thought was single but must certainly be married to the woman’s whose clothes fill the front closet. Angus believes that Ollie was carrying on an affair with his late wife. Ollie, who knows Abigail quite well, believes that she is with Angus that morning in her official role as grief counselor. And the “professional fee” Ollie refers to only convinces Angus that Abigail is a prostitute.

Randolf Mantooth returns to PRTC after appearing in the brilliant 2012 production of Superior Donuts. He perfectly captures that guy we all know—the professional, successful, cynical but essentially decent husband of the woman whom everybody loves. He swallows his own feelings of loss and betrayal and just wants to get on with things.

Michelle Mountain, as Abigail, makes us all fall in love with her. She is a nurturer who wants to kiss all boo-boos and dry all tears. She is a beautiful woman trying to embrace the aging process. She is somebody’s ex-wife, coping with a world of hurt and with three Masters degrees to show for it.

Lynch Travis feels exactly right as Ollie—a forthright, “call-it-as-I-see-it” kind of guy. A former player with the Detroit Tigers, he moves with an athlete’s confidence, in spite of the recent hip surgery and temporary but requisite cane. He is grounded, emotionally generous, and is pissed whenever he’s treated like an old man. He has been in a stable relationship with the love of his life for a long, long time, and yet is still afraid to confront his nonagenarian father with that fundamental truth.

Morning After Grace is rich with dialog that is both clever and honest. It makes us laugh from the diaphragm with the kind of “oh yeah” humor perfected by the late George Carlin; it’s funny because it’s embarrassingly true. Our laughter convicts us, in a gentle way, of the foibles we thought were only our own. And that would be enough to expect from any well produced and performed play.

Ultimately, however, with a nod to Carl Jung, this is a story about the wounded healer. Abigail is a professional counselor with a vocation for helping people even when she can’t seem to help herself. And the solution in this wonderful play, as it must be in life, is that we are called – flawed and wounded as we are – to heal each other. The act of healing others brings its own cure. And on a good night, so does theatre.

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