Los Angeles Times - Friday, January 16, 2004

'Grace & Glorie' offers life lessons

"Why couldn't you let me die in my ignorance?" wails a dirt-poor, cancer-ridden mountain woman at the realization that her narrow, inflexible beliefs might have needlessly enslaved her to a life of hardship and sacrifice.

Riveting moments of self-awareness like this yank Tom Ziegler's "Grace & Glorie" out of the more familiar and predictable elements in a story of precarious friendship between two women from very different backgrounds who teach one another valuable life lessons. After an off-Broadway run, Ziegler's play was filmed in 1998 with Diane Lane and Gena Rowlands. While Judy Welden's staging for NoHo's Eclectic Company Theatre doesn't sport that kind of pedigree, the revival finds its way, after a shaky start, to some genuinely moving performances.

At heart the play is a variation on the "country mouse versus city mouse" motif (with terminal illness thrown in to raise the dramatic stakes).

Elderly but still-feisty Grace (Nan Tepper), who's spent her entire life within 50 miles of her remote farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, squares off against the well-intentioned but na´ve overtures from volunteer hospice worker Gloria (D.J. Harner), a transplanted New Yorker bent on redeeming a past mistake.

All the expected conflicts surface (youth versus maturity, education versus horse sense, sophistication versus simple living),  sometimes more times than really necessary. Some faltering delivery, particularly in the initial scenes, calls out for more performance polishing.

Production values are definitely from the Blue Ridge side of the budget spectrum, and occasionally distracting, as in the problematic sound montages and easily fixable prop lapses (lose the white eggs, please!)

But where the show takes flight is in the surprisingly touching exchanges where these two opposites discover the terrors, and dreams, they have in common. By the end, both actors have impressively shaped formula into unique, flesh-and-blood characters with whom time is well spent. ---  Philip Brandes
"Grace & Glorie," Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m., through Feb. 1; returns Sundays, Feb. 15 and 22 at 2 and 7 p.m. Ends Feb. 22. $15. (818) 508-3003. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.