Theatre Review: “Grace & Glorie” by the Hendricks Civic Theatre

On Sunday, April 11, 2010, I drove west from Indianapolis to Danville in Hendricks County to see “Grace & Glorie” at the Longstreet Playhouse, new home of the all-volunteer Hendricks Civic Theatre.  This play was written by Tom Ziegler, directed by Joan Kimbley, and produced by Jan Van Paris.

It is an intense and inspirational two-hander about Grace (Susan Page Freeman), an illiterate mountain woman nearing the end of her life, and her hospice volunteer, Glorie (Nancy Kotarski), a slick career woman transplanted from New York against her will. 

As I mentioned in my “Quick Thoughts” post right after I saw this production, I went to see it for two main reasons: the cast and the space.   Both were rewarding. 

The Cast: Susan & Nancy (and a perhaps harsh confession)

As you probably already know, a lot of the audience members at community theatre shows are there to “be supportive” of friends and family that are in the show and/or have worked on it.  The audience members may or may not be theatre fans per se.  For them, the art and the story are less important than the fact that they know someone in the show.

I confess that I am never that generous any more.  Or rather, I see this whole blog as being supportive of Indianapolis-area theatre so I no longer think in terms of being supportive of individuals.  There are always more shows offered in the Indianapolis area than I have time to write about, and by now they almost all have people I know in them, so I am always making hard choices.  I am “supportive” of people I know only if I know from past experience that I will enjoy their work and/or if there is something else about the show that promises to help me along my self-directed theatre education path, or if there is something about the show itself that intrigues me.  My curiosity is enormous and I enjoy satisfying it.

So…although I consider Susan Page Freeman my friend because she shares my interest in history in general and Abraham Lincoln in particular, and although I consider Nancy Kotarski my friend because we served together as community theatre judges for the Encore Association last year, I wouldn’t go to see them in a show just “to be supportive.”

I wanted to see Susan in “Grace & Glorie” because I had been wow-ed by her performance in the Buck Creek Players’ production of “Grey Gardens” last year.

I wanted to see Nancy in a show because I had enjoyed her company at Encore shows and I was curious about what she was like on stage.

If either actress had been disappointing in “Grace & Glorie,” I would have applauded in honest appreciation of the time and effort that they had donated to the show.

However, at intermission I was crying as well as applauding, and by the end of the show I felt relaxed and lucky.  It had been a satisfying afternoon of theatre art.

That said, one of the great things about community theatre is the chance to see people that you love doing amazing things.

Susan as Grace is a real cutie: paradoxically feisty and sweet – a touching combination.  Nancy as Glorie is glamorous and competent and caring…yet also vulnerable and in some ways brittle.  Each character has powerful things to confess and important gifts of understanding and insight to give the other.  The play, ultimately, is about two people finding their way to a sense of peace about the meaning of life and their places in the world.  I loved the complexity and beauty that each actress brought to her role.  I loved the chemistry between them on stage, too. 

Susan said to me afterwards, “People don’t know I can do this.”  Nancy said, “When I decide to do something, I pick something hard.”  It is a challenging piece and yet they both make it work admirably.

After the show I also got to speak with the director, Joan Kimbley, for a few moments.  I asked her how she had come to choose this piece.  She said that she had heard an excerpt at a regional theatre festival and seen its possibilities.  She likes that it is “about two women who are very different from each other and yet they work through a lot during their short time together.”

Here is an excerpt from the press release that Publicity Chairperson Deena Conway sent me:

Set in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains at the home of Grace, a 90-year-old country woman who is dying of cancer, the story revolves around her and Gloria, a New York business woman who leaves her city life to become Grace’s caregiver. At first, it would seem, the two lack something in common, but as the plot evolves, they stumble upon a connection that binds and forever changes them. 

“As Grace and Glorie begin to rely on one another, we learn that prejudice comes in many forms and nothing is ever as simple or as different as it seems on the surface,” (director) Kimbley explained. “The story explores the universal theme of relationships and self-discovery, and it resolves itself very nicely,” Kimbley added. 

It was the humorous and poignant storyline that inspired Kotarski to audition for the part of Gloria.  

Kotarski said, “The script is beautifully written with wonderful dialogue between the two women. My hope is that audience members will see this as a visual experience of how one can overcome despair and move forward.”   

Her acting partner and co-lead Freeman agrees. “I hope people come away with a better understanding of their personal connections and with the idea that the acceptance of death is an important part of life and living,” Freeman commented.  

Like Kotarski, Freeman said she was drawn to the play but for a different reason. She said, “I have seen Nancy onstage before and have admired her work. Now I am excited for the chance to work with her and help tell this wonderful and powerful story.” 

The Space: Longstreet Playhouse

The other reason I drove out to Danville was to see the Hendricks Civic Theatre’s new home, the Longstreet Playhouse. 

From Indianapolis, you drive past silos and cows to get to the renovated country church that is now a theatre.  Keep a sharp eye out for the turn because although yes, there is a street sign, it is very small compared to the vastness of the sky overhead and the long, easy stretch of road through fields. 

There is free parking in the gravel lot behind the theatre building once you find it.  When I arrived, a man who was standing outside talking to some friends called hello to me.  It was Jeff Best!  He had introduced himself – and the Hendricks Civic Theatre – to me when he saw me taking notes at a Buck Creek Players show a couple years ago.  He told me that HCT spent 10 years completely renovating their building from church to Longstreet Theatre.  “Grace & Glorie” is their 4th show in the space.  I am sorry that I could not get out to see the first three shows.  Jeff said that they will still need to rent a school auditorium or other large space for their big summer musical (“Grease” was at Plainfield High School last summer, for example), but that they are very pleased with the intimacy of the Longstreet Theatre for smaller-scale shows with smaller casts.

Inside, the theatre space was, indeed, very intimate.  It completely charmed me.  You go up a little flight of stairs outlined with little lights to buy your ticket and maybe a snack.  (Maureen Conner is the concessions coordinator.)

I asked where the ladies’ room was.  The “facilities” are outside, at least for now.  The man at the box office table inside told me that the theatre is waiting for their septic permit before they can re-install indoor toilets.  In the meantime, a friend in the audience told me that the outdoor facilities are “the Cadillacs of port-a-potties.”  I took her word for it because the show was about to start.

Back downstairs, inside the theatre proper, are four, steeply-raked rows of pretty, teal metal folding chairs with padded seats.   They face a tiny stage with two rows of theatrical light cans and two ceiling fans overhead.  There is also an air conditioning system if needed.

You are right there with the actors in this space.  I love this!  At one point in the performance that I saw, Grace’s ball of yarn for the sweater she was knitting rolled away under the chair of a man in the front row.  The more he tried to retrieve it, the more it got tangled up in his feet and rolled further along under the row of chairs.  Glorie just pulled a good length of yarn for Grace to keep knitting with, then deftly snipped the yarn with her scissors to end the distraction.  And all the while she and Grace continued chatting calmly.  I love how anything can happen in live theatre.  I love it even more when the actors are able to just (pardon the expression) roll with it.

My program does not say who designed the set, which was of Grace’s “granny cottage” up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, but it included a wonderful, authentic-looking old stovepipe stove with a little kindling door, real smoke (!) and several other just-right details.  Ramona Seymour was the stage manager.  Brent Wooldridge was the lights & sound operator.

Rebecca Bowman was in charge of properties, which included some “lobster salad” and other deli foods from New York plus fresh apples from Grace’s orchards.  Both made my mouth water.  Thomas Goodwin’s sound design included some very believable chickens on the porch, out of sight, and some lovely pre- and post-show music, including the just-right “I’ll Fly Away” at the end.

Box Office – Future HCT

“Grace & Glorie” ran for only two weekends, so I am glad I got to see it.  The Hendricks Civic Theatre’s next show will be “Godspell, Jr.”  It will run at the Longstreet Playhouse for two weekends, May 14th-16th and May 21st-23rd, 2010.  Show times will be Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:30pm.  It is directed by Ron Schnitzius.  For more information or to make a reservation, please call 317-252-9626 or visit www.hendrickscivic.com.  The Longstreet Playhouse is located at 4998 N. CR 100 E in Danville (corner of CR 100 E. and CR 500 N.)

‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

Follow @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com, too.

(Photo above is by Dave Humrichouser.  Nancy Kotarski is at the left, Susan Page Freeman at the right.)

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