A! Magazine for the Arts

Michael Poisson and Tricia Matthews are on Barter Stage II, Abingdon, Virginia, in “Morning After Grace.” (Photo by Billie Wheeler)

Michael Poisson and Tricia Matthews are on Barter Stage II, Abingdon, Virginia, in “Morning After Grace.” (Photo by Billie Wheeler)

Theatre review: "Morning After Grace" Inspires Courage to Begin Again

February 27, 2019

The young look forward to a time in life when they will “arrive” , with goals achieved, battles won and life’s baffling mysteries all figured out. The old have already discovered that it just doesn’t work that way. Keen insights into navigating life at any stage can be found in Barter Theatre’s production of the delightful coming of (mature) age romantic comedy “Morning After Grace” by Carey Crim.

Three unlikely comrades in their golden years teach us that seeking new paths doesn’t end once we’ve clocked multiple decades inside the same skin. We’ll not be placed on a shelf. a finished product, polished and stamped, waiting to be carried off into whatever lies beyond. Far from it. We’ll still seek, actually itch for, new discoveries and a new path. But, of course, we’ll want to do it with dignity and grace.

This play is packed to the brim with twists and surprises. Miscues, double meanings and misunderstandings are exploited with ingenuity, but well-crafted dialogue always takes center stage. The result is a cleverly honed comedy that also tackles serious issues with tenderness and wisdom.

The story begins on an awkward morning after for Angus (Michael Poisson) and Abigail (Tricia Matthews). Having met only the day before, at a funeral, no less, they are asleep on the sofa, covered by a blanket but apparently little else. Abigail is the first to awaken and begins a silent but frantic search for her clothes, determined that Angus remains in blissful slumber. Matthews’s understated panic, topped off by dressing herself onstage with nary a peep at her unmentionables, is a comical sketch that would make Lucille Ball proud.

But is the situation a disaster or the beginning of a fresh start down a new path?

Angus awakens and fireworks begin, fueled by hilarious mishaps and Abigail’s mortification. Next comes a surprise visit by a friendly neighbor, Ollie (Ron Stroman), bearing his own brand of calamity. Miscommunications, accusations and justifications ensue, volleying from one to another in a zany whirlwind of revelations that entangle all three for the remainder of the story.

Guided by the deft hand of director Carrie Smith Lewis, the dynamics amongst this trio of actors is phenomenal. It is a joy to watch as the three characters challenge each other to scrape up courage, break down barriers and take new chances.

Tricia Matthews gives an endearing but dynamic portrayal of Abigail, often the grounding force between Angus and Ollie. But she also gives strength to Abigail’s unwavering convictions as she finds her way to a more courageous self. And while this play does contain adult themes and language, Matthews articulating Abigail’s “fake swearing” is one of the many comic treats of the show.

Bringing a colossal infusion of energy the moment he steps onstage, Ron Stroman is utterly captivating as Ollie. With a personality as big as all outdoors he is a magical imp in the form of a grown man, able to convey a wealth of meaning with a mere look, gesture or roll of the eyes. His comic timing is terrific, but he also has the ability to pierce your soul.

Michael Poisson brings a solid combination of power and sensitivity to the role of Angus. Though Angus often masks his wounds with acerbic wit or angry bluster, Poisson does a beautiful job of revealing his vulnerability when the time comes.

The clean lines of Derek Smith’s realistic set design, a sleek contemporary condo typical of a Florida retiree, draws us into the stark, raw realism of these seniors grappling with urgent issues of love, loss and forgiveness. Complemented by Tony Angelini’s sound, Kelly Jenkins’ costumes, and Camille Davis’ lighting, all collaborators splendidly unify the many nuances of this intimate but vibrant show.

While the journey of Angus, Abigail and Ollie will bring you loads of laughter as well as a few tears, it will also inspire you to make peace with yourself, find joy and begin again. We all know the phrase “growing old with grace,” but this play charges us to simply “grow with grace.” That works at any age.

“Morning After Grace” runs at Barter Theatre, Abingdon, Virginia, through March 31.

For tickets and information contact 276-628-3991 or www.bartertheatre.com.

Bonny Gable is a freelance writer based in Bristol, Virginia. She was an associate professor of theater and the coordinator of performing arts at Virginina Intermont College for more than a decade. She is a member of the A! Magazine for the Arts editorial committee.