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'Saving Grace' Has Neither Grace Nor Logic

September 18, 1997|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN CLEMENTE — A carelessly written play can sometimes be forgiven if the staging disguises its flaws. Cabrillo Playhouse's revival of the late Orange County playwright Jack Sharkey's "Saving Grace" shows how easily it can all go wrong.

The play contains so much that's illogical that director Patrick J. Fennell's lackluster production only points to the errors. Grace is secretary to randy insurance exec Walter Chepple, who has given her a Hawaiian grass skirt and revealing accessories for Christmas.

She knows why, and she isn't at all interested in his advances but invites him to her apartment anyway, and to top it off, models the outfit for him. Not too bright a move. She wears the costume throughout the evening--it would take only a minute to change--and when a telephone repairman enters to fix her phone, and her supposedly uptight sister, Harriet, unexpectedly turns up, one can imagine the purported hilarity.

Of course, Chepple is still there, soon joined by Harriet's fiance, a Russian evangelist, an incongruity Sharkey obviously thought very funny. Logic is abandoned when Grace thinks the phone man is a burglar and yet, in order to save face, announces to her sister they have just been married. Chepple goes along with this, because when Harriet arrived he was capturing Grace in the phone man's arms with his Super-8 camera and claims he was taking wedding pictures.

One word of explanation would have solved the whole thing early on, but that's not Sharkey's style.

Most of the actors play along the surface of the script, without much attempt at characterization. Tiffany C. Hayes as Grace and Antonio Parra as the phone guy are charming, and the only believable development in the evening is that these two could fall in love at first sight.

Monte Collins is halting and ineffectual as Chepple, and Dena Van Slyke is in two places at once, with a starchy Victorian attitude upon first seeing Grace and then a rowdy bohemianism with her first drink. Ruben Balan, as the Russian tent preacher, gives a juvenile performance, full of loud bombast and childish grimacing.

Fennell's lack of attention to the script itself, and to its details, is exemplified by Grace's mentioning her hometown, Chillicothe, Ohio, and glibly mispronouncing it. But that's no more illogical than anything else here.


"Saving Grace," Cabrillo Playhouse, 202 Avenida Cabrillo, San Clemente. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 8 p.m. Wednesday; 2 p.m. Sept. 28. Ends Sept. 28. $12. (714) 492-0465. Running time: 2 hours.

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