Showing at the Coaster Theatre in Cannon Beach, the play "Grace and Glorie" is a touching, sometimes poignant comedy about two very different women who find some common ground.

While the play doesn't serve up a lot of surprises, I found this simple, yet thoughtful work, enjoyable enough - a sort of odd-couple crowd pleaser.

Grace (convincingly played by Patricia Shannon) is 90, has terminal cancer and lives in the "granny shack" on her family's property in rural Virginia. The set - the interior of a cozy cabin - was impressive, sporting all the right details. There was a partially functional, old-fashioned kitchen with a wood-burning stove and water pump that actually produced water (on loan from local antique vendors for the production).

Periodically, the audience would hear the sound of earth-moving equipment in the background as Grace has, perhaps carelessly, sold her land to impatient real estate developers. Included in the deal is her beloved apple orchard - the significance of which becomes clear when the two characters begin to discuss women's roles in society. There are also several references to Eve throughout the evening and apples are an important prop.

The older woman, Grace, is pretty much at peace with her place in the world and has come to terms with her impending demise. Of course, it's the volunteer hospice worker, Gloria (deftly interpreted by Diane Borcyckowski) who's a mess. She's a successful New York businesswoman-turned-socialite and is dragging enough emotional baggage around to confound a pack mule.

A grudging friendship blossoms between the two women, and although "Glorie," as Grace christens her, appears to have more to learn from Grace than the other way around, the exchange is mostly a mutual one. Their time together (over a couple of weeks) becomes a journey of self-discovery. There's a steady supply of easy laughs, combined with injections of weightier topics such as religious faith, loss of children, the difficulties of marriage and the lot of women, which help give the story relevance. But familiar questions about religion and human existence (Is there a God, and if so, why is he/she so unfair?) aren't explored in any real depth - they're presented more as things that we all worry about.

The talents of Shannon and Borcyckowski added much to the production. They worked well together, engaging the audience to the point that even at its most predictable, it hardly mattered that the play didn't have much new to say. The dialogue was witty and fun, helped, again, by the actors' spot-on comic timing. We laugh at Glorie's struggles with Grace's wood-fired stove, the mice that live under the sink and the cackling chickens outside the back door - a city mouse meets country mouse kind of thing.

The culture clashes between the two characters are never better than when Glorie treats Grace to a New Yorker's idea of a terrific brunch: lobster salad, prosciutto, brie and raisin pumpernickel, only to find out that Grace prefers Velveeta on Wonder Bread slathered with Miracle Whip. There's also a running joke about a soup tureen, which belonged to Grace's mother-in-law, that does double duty as a bed pan. Snippets of The Good News Quartet singing "Throw Out the Lifeline" and other gospel tunes at different times during the evening was an inspired decision, managing at once to convey both humor and pathos and very much in keeping with the spirit of the play.

I'd put any of the problems I had with the production at the door of playwright Tom Ziegler. This one was just too lightweight, at least for me, considering what we know about these women. Then, there were all the stereotypes and platitudes - even Grace's crisis of faith comes off a bit like a tempest in a teapot. Still, there'll undoubtedly be many less than dry eyes in the theater at the play's end and laughs aplenty during. Most folks will relate on various levels to Grace and Gloria's story and be well entertained in the process.

I can't say enough about the Coaster Theatre gang, though, and the obvious talent and professionalism that went into this production - the costumes, the lighting, the sound, the sets, etc. were just plain superb. While this was the first time I've been to the Coaster, it certainly won't be the last. A hearty "well done" to executive director Craig Shepherd, the Coaster players and everyone associated with this local treasure.


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