By BRUCE HICKMAN
“Stories My Grandmother Told Me” presents a premise that might suggest an evening of folksy tedium. Though family friendly with nary a coarse word to be heard, rest assured this is not front porch story time. And thanks to the honest writing and several performances by the Henegar Center cast directed by Anthony Mowad, the show avoids homespun cliches wrapped in pretty bows.
Playwright Ted Swindley adapted the play from a few of his short stories, which take on the relationship between younger John Mark (Jarrett Poore) and his grandmother Gladys (Dee Quinn). We see it unfold mostly through the eyes of the grown-up John Mark (Bob Gray)who also serves as the story’s narrator.
Particularly engaging is Jarrett Poore as the younger John Mark. With his trousers pulled so high and wearing an expression that seems lifted from a Norman Rockwell painting, he is the picture of southern innocence and charm. We’re easily drawn to him as he lives the memories. He presents a wide-eyed contrast to his character’s wisdom-meets-the-cynicism of his older self, which now grapples with his grandmother’s lifelong need to find comfort in the black-and-white world she’s desperate to believe.
Even ensemble pieces such as this one need a central focal point and veteran actress Dee Quinn is perfect as Gladys, the grandmother of a certain age. She is a woman of faith – or certainly comes across as such in the narrator’s book.
Tori Terhune and David Hill have the tasks of playing multiple roles as ancillary characters are recalled in the memories. Hill especially is a joy to watch and seems almost too good of a fit as a fire-and-brimstone preacher. His scenes may cause flashbacks for those who grew up in southern churches.
Certainly the play doesn’t have the name recognition of Swindley’s “Always…Patsy Cline.” But if you’ve seen that play you sense similiar warmth and some tragedy with very of it sinking into darker territory.
Some frustration is felt but there’s little cathartic anger to enjoy. But that’s the point. As the narrator explains near the play’s start, the memories are “based on fact filtered through the fiction of the heart.”
The set is quaint and inviting, consisting of a couch and chair.
Audiences don’t have much time left to catch this production. Final show is 2 p.m. Sunday at Upstairs @ the Henegar at The Henegar Center.
Photo by Dana Niemeier
SIDE O’ GRITS: “STORIES MY GRANDMOTHER TOLD ME” runs through Sunday at Upstairs at the Henegar venue on the second floor of the Henegar Center for the Arts, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. Curtain is 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. $16 to $25, handling charges may apply. Call 321-723-8698 or visit www.henegar.org.