Cast excels in darkly comic exploration of deep truths


Whether it comes from death or betrayal, grief is a strange ride, frequently prompting unexpected actions from those left behind. That issue is explored in the frequently funny and always tender production of “Morning After Grace,” running through Feb. 18 at Riverside Theatre’s Waxlax Stage venue.

Written by Carey Crim, “Morning After Grace” begins in, literally, the morning after. The dawn rises and we see two sleeping figures under a blanket on a couch. There are a couple of large empty bottles of wine on the coffee table in an otherwise tidy home in a Florida retirement community.

The woman, Abigail, wakes up and realizes that she is not fully clothed. Still beneath the blanket, she grabs her shorts and wriggles into them, striving not to awaken the man, Angus, on the couch with her. Trying to find a robe, she opens a closet … “et voila.” The closet is filled with colorful dresses and caftans.

That discovery sets her into a tirade against a man she now believes has used her to cheat on his wife. Abigail calls for a taxi. Angus wakes up and they both quickly realize how they met – at a funeral.

“At our age, funerals are better than singles bars,” Angus says. That sets the play into a sitcom romp filled with quips, until we find out whose funeral it was.

Enter a third character, Ollie, a former professional baseball player whose father, even in his 90s, continues to reject him.

While the play nudges the audience into thinking the story takes a humorous – albeit, darkly so – look at loss, it rises above that one note and takes us into more human complexity.

Jokes dissolve into gallows’ humor; fragile shells are discarded, and we get a glimpse into deeper truths.

But there are plenty of laughs, especially when the trio light up a bong and decide to make brownies.

The production boasts an impressive cast led by an impressive director.

Chris Clavelli, who directed Riverside’s excellent production of David Mamet’s drama “Oleanna” last season, brings a fun comic flair to “Morning After Grace.” He takes his time in the funny wordless beginning and sets the stage for both circumstances and character.

His deeper dramatic current pops out when characters grow angry or hurt or, at the end, when they become truthful and confront their futures. Clavelli’s cast all bring multi-faceted, tender portrayals. They have great ease on stage, making it seem like we are really voyeurs peeking into the lives of strangers we all know so well.

Cynthia Babak shows Abigail as a strong woman who has gone through hurt and is ready to get on with her life. Babak has had a very active theater and performance career, writes sketch comedy, directs and is also a playwright, so it should come as no surprise that she’s both fun and engaging on stage.

Tony Campisi finds both the deep hurt and abiding humor in Angus. He has such delightful ease on stage that it’s a pleasure to watch him. It’s no surprise, though, because he has a bounty of stage experience on Broadway, Off-Broadway and in major regional theaters. He co-starred with Kathy Bates in “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” and is a regular participant of the revered O’Neill Playwrights Conference and Sundance Playwrights Lab.

Keith Lee Grant is so winning as Ollie, a man whose body is as broken, as is his heart. Like his co-actors, he has an impressive resume, working on Broadway, Off-Broadway, Playwrights Horizons, Yale Rep, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and much more. He’s also founding artistic director of the Harlem Repertory Theatre, where he won awards for choreography and direction.

Scenic designer Emily Luongo crafts an odd mixture for the Florida retirement condo. An open kitchen shows contemporary tile work but sports an ’80s-inspired display of glassware on top of uninspired kitchen cabinetry. Along with Williams Gibbons-Brown’s lighting design, there is a lovely sense of dramatic space offstage.

But the most intriguing aspect of the scenic design is the foyer closet. Typically used for jackets, coats, etc., this closet, next to the front door, is stuffed to the brim with colorful dresses and caftans. It’s as if the woman to whom they belong has so much in her bedroom closet that she needs more space.

That lends an intriguing comment to the woman’s character and one which needs to remain unanalyzed in order to keep mum on a few plot points.

On the surface, this is a simple story with simple characters, but they have such depth to them, it is as if you are looking in the mirror. You cheer on the budding relationship and want the best for them.

“Morning After Grace” runs through Feb. 18 at Riverside Theatre, 3250 Riverside Park Dr., Vero Beach. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Wednesdays, select Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $65. For more information, call 772-231-6990 or visit

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