Cast delivers laughs with `Saving Grace'

Play: Good pacing, strong ensemble acting and mistaken identities make for a lighthearted, satisfying comedy at Bowie Community Theatre.

January 31, 2002|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Jack Sharkey's play Saving Grace, now at Bowie Community Theatre, offers no profound messages or heroic characters. Instead this lighthearted, old-fashioned comedy is filled with cases of mistaken identity and loaded with zany characters searching for something beyond their grasp, and having a hilarious time reaching for it.

Set in the 1970s, Saving Grace takes us back to an innocent time when a 20-something secretary would feel uneasy about entertaining a man in her apartment for the first time. Secretary Grace Larkin experiences such discomfort as she arrives home with her boss, Walter Chepple, who is celebrating his 51st birthday.

Grace has a unique apartment where the living room contains everything but the proverbial kitchen sink, which is found in her bathroom. Grace has decorated her apartment with several '40s film posters and a half-trimmed Christmas tree drooping near the kitchen table in mid-January.

Confused by the apartment layout and by Grace's strange conversation, culled from '40s Hollywood films, Walter attempts to persuade Grace to accompany him on a business trip to Hawaii. He has given her a beach costume for Christmas, which he persuades her to model.

Arriving next is telephone repairman Alex Docker, who enters as Walter leaves to get his movie camera to film Grace. Alex goes through the kitchen window to repair the telephone line and returns through the same window as Grace enters the room in her grass skirt, and immediately mistakes him for a burglar.

Soon Grace's straight-laced older sister Harriet arrives at the apartment and is surprised to find Alex there. When they are joined by Walter, Grace invents a story for her sister, announcing that she has arrived on Alex's and her wedding day, describing Walter as their only wedding guest.

Complications ensue as spinster Harriet announces she has found love with Russian evangelist preacher Gregor Vanitzky, who is the last character to arrive on the scene. Gregor feels as much affection for Harriet as his strict standards will allow.

Bowie Community Theatre's production is brisk-paced under Brad Tresek's direction. Tresek has also designed a wonderfully tacky set that adds to the fun. The fast action demands a cast skilled at ensemble work, and this experienced group of players generally delivers.

As the eccentric Grace, Leah Appel tackles a demanding role requiring her almost constant presence on stage. Appel needs to memorize and recite reams of often senseless dialogue culled from ancient films. Appel does well as Grace, although her frenzied characterization sometimes becomes a bit grating.

Mike Dunlop delivers a thoroughly competent performance as Walter Chepple and is especially effective in his scenes bantering with Pat Reynolds' Alex Docker. An experienced actor at Colonial Players with a long list of credits, Reynolds makes a strong debut here as Docker, revealing comic talent and an ability to play a convincing drinking scene, where he ends up being nearly incomprehensible.

Craig Miller clearly enjoys his role of Gregor Vanitzky so much that we can almost taste the Russian borscht and hear balalaikas playing.

Jerri Shelton understands every nuance of Harriet Larkin, moving from rigid spinster to disheartened lover, then transforming herself into an uninhibited, independent woman who discovers a new love in an unlikely character.

Although Sharkey's material often seems dated, it delivers enough laughs in the hands of this ensemble to add up to an enjoyable evening. Saving Grace continues on weekends through Feb. 9 at Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park a few miles past Crofton. Tickets: 301-805-0219.

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