Veteran stage and screen actor Beth Grant gives her most wickedly funny performance to date in the Colony Theatre's fantastic new play "Grace & Glorie." In the 70-plus feature films she's co-starred in ("No Country for Old Men," "Donnie Darko," and "Rain Man," to name a few), Grant plays characters whose deep religious views are often amplified for comedic effect.
Grace Stiles is not unlike the zealous movie characters Grant has grown accustomed to playing, and thankfully so. A lesser actor would have easily turned the 90-year-old curmudgeon into an even more dislikable hag. But with Grant in the role, we can only love her.
When we're first introduced to Grace, she's alone in her bed and singing the gospel hymn "Throw Out the Lifeline." By the looks of her, Grace is old, very old, and probably close to death. She speaks in a rustic, backwoods twang that makes cynical remarks like, "if there's one thing I know about life, it's death," sound even funnier coming out of her mouth.
It would be a vast understatement to say Grace lives a simple life. Her hospitable cottage dwelling, spectacularly designed by Jeff McLaughlin, is not equipped with running water or even a working telephone, and Grace likes it that way. When Gloria Whitmore, a big-city expat spoiled on the amenities of modern life, arrives to cook Grace breakfast, it takes her nearly half an hour to boil an egg. Turns out that Glorie, as Grace begins to call her, has never worked a wood-burning stove. This gives Grace enough leeway to joke, "I think it'll be easier if you get in bed."
And that's pretty much how the rest of "Grace & Glorie" plays out; two women, one young and unsatisfied with the fact that she had to sacrifice a career for her husband, the other old and set in her ways. They share stories about their past, and find comfort in the fact that they both lost children. Not much else happens in Grace & Glorie, but the acting is superb enough to keep our interest throughout.
Melinda Page Hamilton is wonderful as Glorie and allows her acting prowess to really shine during the emotionally charged second act. It's then that "Grace & Glorie" shifts modes, with Glorie lamenting the death of her son. Even though it's been years since it happened, Glorie is still pained by the loss and can't understand why a presumably loving God would take her boy away.
"Death is just as much a part of life as being born," Grace tells her, and with that Glorie's tears dry up. She is comforted.
At this point, five days have passed since Glorie initially stumbled upon Grace's front door. They were complete strangers then, but now it's as if they're old friends, reunited after decades apart.
It's difficult to imagine how two actors can banter back and forth for two hours and 15 minutes and still manage to command an audience's attention. Yet Beth Grant and Melinda Page Hamilton did just that. "Grace & Glorie" is one charming little play and a must-see for anyone interested in love, friendship and wood-burning stoves (turns out it's a real one!).
Infobox What: "Grace & Glorie"When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday until July 18. There will be no performances over the July 4th weekend. Where: The Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., BurbankTickets: $20 to $42 with student, senior and group discounts availableContact: Tickets can be purchased colonytheatre.org, or by calling (818) 558-7000