Plays centering exclusively on people “of a certain age” are admittedly few and far between. “Morning After Grace” heavily mines the lives of those who fall into the 60+ category and comes up with moments of pure comic gold. Valley Place Arts Collaborative stages a play that, in a frank and humorous way, tackles everything from one-night stands among seniors to coming out when you’re nearly 70 to the art of revenge sex following a funeral. Interspersed with plenty of laughs and insightful moments of hard-won wisdom (and impenetrable stubbornness), “Morning After Grace” does what so many plays shy away from—exposes the complicated desires of older people who are far from content with the “of a certain age” status quo.
…moments of pure comic gold…a play that fills a much-needed gap in today’s theatre with humor, poignancy, and a very real look at the lives of those within a certain age group…
Playwright Carey Crim dives headfirst into the loves and dysfunction of Angus, Abigail, and Ollie following the accidental drowning death of Angus’s wife Grace. The play opens with two very naked people on a couch surrounded by several very empty bottles of booze. In fact, Angus (Matty Griffiths) and Abigail (Adele Robey) are in position before the play even begins. It is an intriguing strategy suggestive of the transactional nature of what is to come. The premise however is pretty clear—these two hooked up.
Following a very awkward morning after meet-and-greet—as indeed the Bacchanalian fog subsuming the characters requires a lot of dot connecting—the pair begin the process of getting to know one another. The reverse order of their encounter, coupled with the physical comedy of the first scene, sets up a very sitcom-like atmosphere that these retirement-community based characters perfectly inhabit. As Angus and Abigail’s dysfunctional beginning devolves into further dysfunction, Ollie (DeJeanette Horne) comes a knocking. A friend of the deceased, Ollie is the good-natured guy-next-door doing his due diligence by checking on Angus the aggrieved widower.
These three characters stuck in this post-funeral haze (quite literally as Angus eventually brings out his bong) makes for a confessional powder keg. Revelations abound as we discover that, prior to her death, Grace may have been cheating; Ollie is still semi-closeted though he’s been with his partner for decades; and Abigail is struggling to cope with a particularly cutting “First Wives Club” brand of humiliation. Of course, there is the titillating flirting disguised as fighting dynamic between Angus and Abigail.
Crim’s writing though, does not die on the hill of an Angus/Abigail will-they-or-won’t-they gambit. Rather, the playwright uses the push-pull between the characters to tell a far more intimate story about what it is to grow older in a world that prioritizes age over actions. Director Lisa Hodsoll (who stepped in for Stevie Zimmerman given some of the unforeseen issues the production had to deal with) keeps the focus simple and highly naturalistic. We are intimately ensconced in the lives of these three characters. We could easily be having a cup of coffee with them in the living room or smoking weed, as the case may be.
For their part, the cast doesn’t overdo the bigger “a-ha” moments, keeping it on that slice-of-life level to which we can all relate. Robey is understated but in a laugh-out-loud way, bringing a low-key brand of comedy that serves to both inform and entertain. Some of the character’s more cringy TMI moments certainly bring audiences into the secret inner lives of older women. Griffiths’ portrayal of Angus exudes that love-to-hate vibe. You want to simultaneously smack and console him and, on both fronts, Griffiths compellingly proves why Angus deserves it. Then there’s Ollie. Having had the opportunity to see Horne in a couple of productions already this past year, I can say that this is one of his best. In one speech in particular—a coming out trial of sorts—Horne takes the audience on one heck of a rollercoaster of “how come,” “what if,” and “what next.” It is thought-provoking and deeply resonant, to say the least.
Set design by Gisela Estrada plays perfectly into the naturalistic sitcom vibe that the company seems to be going for. Lighting by Asia Christian along with sound design by Christian Jones are just over the top enough to create a theatrical vibe that handily pivots between key moments but that also grounds the production in the realness necessary to tell this story. For a production troubled by a number of unexpected and unfortunate circumstances—namely a gas line explosion that put a halt to everything—Valley Place Arts Collaborative delivered a play that fills a much-needed gap in today’s theatre with humor, poignancy, and a very real look at the lives of those within a certain age group who, for all intents and purposes, seem to be just getting started.
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission.
“Morning After Grace” presented by Valley Place Arts Collaborative ran through February 1-4, 2024 at Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Marion Barry Ave SE, Washington, DC 20020. For more information on upcoming events by the Valley Place Arts Collaborative, go online.