'Grandma' comes with enough ghoul to be good

October 29, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Just in time for Halloween, the Theatre Project is presenting a creep show with a graveyard, a mobile corpse, a bathtub, a trapeze . . .

Wait a minute. A bathtub? A trapeze?

Yes, this is "Don't Drop Grandma," the latest work to come to Baltimore from Touchstone Theatre of Bethlehem, Pa. In keeping with Touchstone's approach in several of its past pieces, this one -- created by the ensemble in collaboration with writer Jennie Gilrain and director Augustine Ripa -- brings a refreshingly humorous, childlike sensibility to a serious subject.

The subject here is death -- specifically, the impending demise of a woman named Rose (the "grandma" of the title).

The proceedings are narrated by Jason Hale, a vaudeville-style funeral director who wears plaid boxer shorts, socks with garters, a blackT-shirt and a bowler. His sidekick, Henriette Brouwers, wears a short black slip. Together with Amy Russell's Rose -- who makes her entrance in the aforementioned bathtub -- they sing a jolly rendition of the macabre children's song that includes the line: "The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out."

Despite singing along, Rose isn't happy about dying.

Rose has some unfinished business to wrap up first, and most of this 75-minute show consists of her efforts to accomplish that.

The unresolved business is an affair that Rose's husband, Al (Mark McKenna), had with a neighbor (again played by Brouwers, who also plays Rose's granddaughter). Al never admitted his adultery to Rose, but she knew about it anyway, and now, more than 30 years after his death, she keeps asking him, "Why?"

Al literally rises out of the grave to help her. The stage is carpeted with a thick layer of dirt, and the first we see of him is two hands poking out of a mound of earth. After getting stiffly to his feet and doing a few slapstick turns to scare the funeral director, Al re-enacts his affair in flashbacks. This doesn't answer Rose's question; he probably doesn't know the answer. Instead, Rose eventually settles for his confession that he made a mistake.

It's a fairly simple story about fairly simple people. So what's the

purpose of that pesky trapeze and bathtub? Well, the trapeze is primarily occupied by the graceful Brouwers, who uses it at one point to mime swimming (and nearly drowning) in the ocean. The bathtub, which represents cleansing, may partly be intended to contrast with the dirt-covered stage, or perhaps to heighten the contrast between pure Rose and soiled Al. Even the dirt may have more than one meaning, serving not only as a graveyard but also as Rose's beloved garden -- and in the process symbolizing the start as well as the end of life.

Rose and Al's story, and the bits about the comic funeral director, don't blend together too smoothly, but then death can be a jarring experience. And while "Don't Drop Grandma" may not provide new insights into the subject, it's an amusingly different kind of Halloween entertainment.

THEATER REVIEW

What: "Don't Drop Grandma"

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; through Nov. 6

Tickets: $14

Call: (410) 752-8558

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