Written by Alina Mae Wilson
Stories with mentally ill people have a good track record with me. Let me be clearer –I have yet to come across a story featuring a (potentially) mentally ill person failing to capture my undivided attention before the show is over. Robert Riemer’s Grace Note is no different. What starts out as a somewhat bland family narrative successfully becomes a dark comedy about life, death, and reality as we know it.
Our family is made up of Mama, Dad, Chris, and Michael. Mom is sweet but a bit dippy. Dad is gruff but a bit loopy. Chris is seemingly
damaged beyond repair. Meanwhile Michael is nice, friendly, helpful, and everything a loving son should be. Chris arrives home after taking a long period of absence with his brother Michael’s girlfriend Lauren. Dad’s drinking buddy Norman stops by, and despite their alleged friendship, takes continual pleasure in making Dad feel like crap. As the night wears on we find ourselves on an assortment of twisted paths made up of truth, lies, and that mysterious gray area, which is neither lunacy nor sanity.
Grace Note is completed in just over an hour in a simple environment that befits it’s brevity. We in the audience are accommodated in a nice black box nearer to the back of the Waltmar Theatre. With only two rows of chairs lining the theatre walls all the way around, it would be very difficult to find the “bad seat” of the house. The set itself is effective as the kitchen and bedroom of a house, and the staging is clear. Because the blocking is well done and the cast list is six people long, there are no problems with understanding the plot. Simplicity wins the day again.
As is often the case with plays, Grace Note has a hard time taking off. A good twenty minutes is committed to setting the scene for us, and it’s a drag –despite the cast’s fantastic performances. Enthusiastic arguments about people we don’t yet know are hardly riveting, but it’s worth being patient. Sit there thinking “They’re upset about this person…why do we care…why do we care…*person shows up* oh THAT’S why we care…” Bear with them because the excitement does come.
Speaking of excitement, let’s talk about the performances: wonderful, strong, and featuring many insane people running around onstage, so there’s little time to laugh/hang your jaw to the floor in shock. My biggest issue stems from the direction given to Michael’s character–he is supposed to be “normal.” One out of two lines referring to him mention the fact that he is the most pleasant and normal member of the bunch, yet that is not how his character comes across. From the beginning he seems awkward, stiff, and ill at ease, which could have something to do with his environment. It’s hard to imagine anyone seeing him as a sociable human being. Perhaps the rest of the world sees him as weird, and only his family views him as totally sane. This could be the case, but if this is what Director Sebastian Munoz is going for, he should probably consider stating it more explicitly. Michael’s shining moments occur when he gets to express sheer panic.
The rest of the show is smooth sailing. Special mention goes to both Jennifer Novak Chun (Mama) and Tyler Koster (Chris) for fantastic performances. Chun’s Mama is caring and tender, but we can’t help but wonder what precisely is wrong with her that caused her to be so eerie. She reminds me of Diana from the Broadway musical Next to Normal. Koster manages to be alarming without getting annoying. He is funny, sympathetic, and dangerous at all the appropriate intervals.
This is a fun show, and it introduces some interesting concepts to the audience. Not overly deep but not a hunk of time-wasting cheese either. Go out and enjoy some lunacy.
Location & Time:
Moulton Center Studio Theatre
300 E. Palm Ave., Orange, CA 92866
Thursday, August 27th at 8:00pm
Friday, August 28th at 8:00pm