The curtain of darkness and anticipation lifts, and against a faintly portentous quasi-mariachi soundscape and sensitively designed lighting, we see a fantastic stage set with Angus (Martin LaPlatney) and Abigail (Katrina Ferguson) dozing, wrapped in bedsheets on the sofa. There is ubiquitous evidence of a raucous night and excessive alcohol consumption. We are in an upscale stereotypical baby-boomer Florida retirement condo with plush furniture, a well-stocked open kitchen with counter seating, wall décor with beach themes, and light gray walls with white trim and crown molding. It’s nothing like the colonial tones of brass, antiques, and fireplaces in northern locales from whence formerly employed baby boomers originate. It’s a new world for them, and piece by piece, we shall discover much about this dalliance through reflections of life’s love, deceit, betrayal, loss, scars, and the passing of time.
Abagail manages to stand wrapped in a sheet as she looks for her clothes. Seeking something substantial to wear, some of the post-tryst glow fades when she discovers a closet filled with woman’s dresses leading to questions about whether Angus is married or a transvestite. Angus awakens and fumbles through a basket in the kitchen for medication to relieve his headache. The night took its toll on the 70-year-old. We discover that Abagail is a mere 62, and Angus thinks she is beautiful.
Here are some of what emerges to provide grist for humor and pathos. Former human rights attorney Angus was married to Grace, whose funeral took place yesterday. Angus began drinking from a flask at the service and met grief counselor Abigail who had crashed the funeral and did not know Grace was Angus’ wife. Abagail spent the night with Angus, motivated by the funeral’s coincidental date of her divorce anniversary. Abigail’s husband “traded her in for a new model” after 39 years of marriage. Abagail has a dating counselor and notes that the woman/man ratio at age 70 is about four to one. Upon examining deceased Grace’s phone, Angus discovered his wife betrayed him by cavorting with another man. Grace and Angus could not conceive; Grace wanted to adopt while Angus did not and now, regrettably, is alone.
Former professional baseball player now limping with a cane, nice guy, and 68-year-old neighbor Ollie (Marvin Bell) drops by to comfort Angus. After some confusion over Grace’s illicit phone contact, whose name starts with the letter O, the trio indulges in Grace’s leftover medical marijuana. Guided by Abigail, the men engage in role-play therapy to address Ollie’s never having shared with his 92-year-old father that he was gay. The issue is now at the forefront since Dad has dementia and must live with Ollie. After sharing a bong pipe, the trio’s silliness and humor are akin to Cheech and Chong’s comportment in the film Up In Smoke (1978) or old lovable drunk comedians like Foster Brooks.
The audience chuckled at the many clever lines and twists, appreciating particular references to ‘60s culture and age-related physical annoyances. Even a contemporary “blue pill” joke materialized, and Angus seemed proud of his connections to the past—he has a flip phone and uses a paper phonebook. As fellow audience neighbor Janice recalled to me, we were warned as teens in the late ’60s that just holding hands could cause pregnancy. When we danced, we had to imagine Jesus standing between us to ensure the safety and security provided by abstinence. As an additional protective measure, girls were even named Chastity in those times. Finally, Ollie could be himself, and Grace and Angus could hook up at a funeral, get drunk, spend the night as strangers, and smoke marijuana.
In this illusory Florida retirement community where three boomers find themselves, universal truths about life, time, and human nature emerge. This dimension appeals best to audience members who unveil their suspension of disbelief. Insights about life and our plans are articulated, just as once expressed by a cynical Robert Burns, “the best-laid schemes of mice and men, go oft awry, and leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy!”
Angus’ Shakespearean soliloquy of loss and Grace’s death is heart rendering and soulful. He describes his grief, anger, and pain as he stumbles over Grace’s belongings, as simple as her toothbrush, or when noting the scent of her perfume on a pillow. He admits his part in the decline of their marriage and expresses many regrets, wistfully noting that “people are here, and then they are gone.”
Marvin Bell as Ollie Ford, Martin LaPlatney as Angus, and Katrina Ferguson as Abigail masterfully convey intimate, sentimental, and challenging portrayals. They successfully garner empathy as a measure of the work’s success, just as the audience’s experiences and gained insights gauge the writer’s efficacious purposes and expressive meaning.
Does Alexander Pope’s perspective reign that “hope spring eternal in the human breast,” or is our trio doomed to enact the tragedies of Hamlet, Claudius, and Gertrude? Is “morning” about “mourning?” Does “Grace” exude spiritual virtue? Can boomers find true love in the 21st century?
You’ll want to see the play to find out.
Carey Crim is the author of Morning After Grace. Chris Clavelli directs this performance, joined by costume designer Charlene Gross, set designs by Kimberly V. Powers, lighting by Rob Siler, sound by Adam Trummel, and stage manager Janine Wochna.
Morning After Grace runs through January 26. For tickets, go to https://www.floridarep.org/buy-tickets/ or call the box office at 239-332-4488.
Historic Arcade Theatre, 2268 Bay St., Fort Myers FL 33901. Arrive early as the Theatre is a few steps from the waterfront, marvelous restaurants, and shopping venues.
Runtime: About 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. This play contains adult language and themes.
Marilyn McCoo and the Fifth Dimension singing One Less Bell to Answer, on Soul Train (1970).