Your average theater-goer is sure to find Springville Playhouse’s production of “Saving Grace” to be cute and funny. It ain’t exactly Broadway, but so what? Any play that dares to show a lead character wearing nothing but glow-in-the-dark “Star Wars” boxers must have something going for it.
This fast-moving, farcical excursion takes place in the New York apartment of Grace Larkin (Georgiana Deming), an extremely nervous young insurance secretary whose creepy boss Walter Chepple (Karl Young) has invited himself over for a drink. A telephone repairman named Alex (Jon Liddiard) shows up, but Grace thinks he’s a burglar. For vague reasons to be discussed later, Alex lets her go on thinking that. Then, for other vague reasons, the two pretend to be married when Grace’s sister Harriet (Kathy Young) arrives, along with her fiance, Gregor Vanitzky (John Gholdston, who, with his wife, Sharon, also directed the show). Is Gregor a Russian evangelist? Well, sure! Why not! Oh, and everybody gets drunk.
The show is heavy on plot and light on characterization; the plot, however, is extraordinarily (and quite unashamedly) goofy, full of head-scratchingly illogical developments and unmotivated action. When Alex gets wet, Grace’s solution is NOT to throw the supposed burglar out, or to call the police — but, rather, to put his clothes in the oven to dry. Then, when her sister shows up and wonders why a near-naked man is in the house and Grace is wearing a hula skirt (a creepy gift from the creepy Chepple), she decides the only logical thing to do is to tell her that she and Alex are married. “His clothes were wet” never seems to enter her mind as an appropriate explanation; neither does it ever occur to Alex to say, “I work for the phone company.”
According to the show’s press materials, the reason Alex lets Grace think he’s a burglar is that he’s concerned (and correctly) about Chepple’s intentions toward her, and he wants to protect her. Not only does this not come through in the performance, but even if it did, it still wouldn’t make much sense. Why would she be more inclined to let him stay (and thus protect her) if he’s a burglar than if he’s a telephone repairman? Only the play knows for sure, and the play ain’t tellin’!
Like most farces, “Saving Grace” is populated entirely by stupid people who lie all the time. Their ineptitude at creating believable fibs is rivaled only by their capacity to believe everyone else’s false-sounding whoppers. The lies get funnier and funnier, but even funnier is the fact that everyone keeps BELIEVING them.
The actors are energetic and committed to their characters. Deming is adorable and sympathetic as Grace, though she overdoes the nervousness, hardly letting up for a second, even when she’s drunk. And speaking of that, Young’s Harriet is one of the funniest drunks you’ll ever see, stealing the scene with some truly excellent physical comedy. But Liddiard is the best overall, bringing some realism and life to Alex and getting quite a few honest, non-shtick laughs throughout the show.
For a night of simple, uncomplicated laughs, “Saving Grace” is a winner. (Bad joke coming.) Its flaws are more than made up for by its saving graces. (Bad joke concluded.)
This play was a bit awkward to review. The co-directors were my city editor at the Daily Herald (Sharon Gholdston) and my former adviser at The Daily Universe (John Gholdston). I knew they were both heavily involved in the Springville theater scene, but I had never seen any of their work. So I was nervous, as I always am when I have to review people I like.
But everything turned out OK. The things I said in this review are what I would have said anyway, and I still had a job at the Herald afterward.
I saw this play on a double date, and I think the other three enjoyed it (the play) (well, the date, too) more than I did. I think I've seen too many plays to still be very amused by simple-minded farces like this one. Nonetheless, someone who doesn't go to the theater three times a week would probably find it perfectly suitable. Does that sound elitist? I hope not. Well, actually, I don't care. But I kind of hope not.
I don't think I emphasized enough in the review just how creepy Walter Chepple was. He was so creepy he oozed.