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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018 3 years ago

Asolo Rep tackles heavy issues with light comedy in “Morning After Grace"

The clueless characters of Asolo Rep's production make the play feel like a sitcom on stage.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

Carey Crim’s “Morning After Grace” celebrates the circle of life at the Asolo Rep. Specifically, the point where everything comes full circle. We’re talking funeral, people. It’s an ending — and possibly a good beginning. There’s a nice crowd, emotions are raw, it’s the perfect meet and greet! And an ideal time to say goodbye to your late wife and hook up with a new romantic partner.

That may sound like a British comedy. But it actually takes place in contemporary Florida. It’s close to home, in fact. A Suncoast retirement community that could be right next door — or your mailing address.

The play opens and telegraphs the telltale signs of a night of hanky-panky. Wine bottles, a couple sprawled together on the couch. Abigail (Catherine Smitko) arises, tries to dress and greet the day. Angus (Jack Wetherall) also resumes consciousness. It seems like the beginning of a beautiful friendship until Abigail discovers women’s clothing. Abigail figures Angus is married and cheating — and only finds out later that his wife had just been buried. More complications and revelations ensue. To keep the complications sufficiently complicated, a third character conveniently appears. Ollie (David Alan Anderson) acts as foil, referee, and he-who-states-the-obvious.

Let’s emphasize the positive …

Director Peter Amster gets fine comic performances from the talented trio of actors. Kudos also to Robert Mark Morgan, for the authentic 1970s Shangri-La vibe of his retirement condo set. Paul Miller’s lighting was equally effective. Did I mention David M. Covach’s cool costumes? They’re exactly what the characters would play. The audience around me appeared to be having a good time. Much laughter filled the air. Occasionally, some of it was mine.

It’s a sweet, lovely, funny play. But it’s also preposterous.

"Morning After Grace" runs through March 4. Photo by Cliff Roles

I feel like a heel for pointing this out — like criticizing “It’s a Wonderful Life” because of its inaccurate depiction of banking regulations. But that’s my take.

The play revolves around what Harlan Ellison (the patron saint of all curmudgeons) once called the “idiot plot.” Basically, he defined this as a plot that only makes sense if everyone involved is an idiot. They don’t see what’s in front of their noses, put two and two together, or ask the obvious questions.

The inhabitants of most sitcoms, in other words.

The clueless characters of “Morning After Grace” feel a lot like that. What you’re looking at is basically a sitcom on stage.

Which is not to say you won’t have a good time. It’s a good sitcom, on a par with “Grace and Frankie.” Both in terms of laughs, logical plausibility and the heavy issues (including grief, trauma, recovery and sexual identity) underlying the light material.

If you can put your suspension of disbelief into interstellar overdrive, you’ll have a good time.

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