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Posted January 8, 2009 | comments Leave a comment

A bridge: Two-woman play takes a look at friendship, death

Deborah Pitts, left, who portrays Gloria, comforts Jude Wynne, as Grace, in Winchester Little Theatre’s production of “Grace & Glorie.” Dennis Grundman/Daily

'Gracie & Glorie'

  • “Grace & Glorie” opens Friday at 8 p.m. with additional shows Saturday and Sunday, at 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. respectively.
  • Additional shows are set for Jan. 15-18. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $14 for students.

By Garren Shipley -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — Different people from different times have different cultures, but there are few if any gulfs that friendship and understanding can’t bridge.

That’s the premise of “Grace & Glorie,” the latest production at Winchester Little Theatre under the direction of Roxie Orndorff.

The play, written by Tom Ziegler, tells the story of an old Virginia widow facing terminal cancer and how her life changes when a whirlwind arrives in the form of Gloria, a recent transplant from New York City turned hospice volunteer.

When Gloria volunteers to help hospice patients, the clash of cultures is apparent — and entertaining.

“When they first meet, neither one has much use for the other,” said Orndorff. “I think Gloria realizes that she’s way out of her element when she walks into that rustic cabin.”

“Grace is very independent, and ‘set in her ways,’ as she says many times during the play,” she said. “Their cultures are very divergent.”

The friction between the two women is the energy that makes the technically challenging, two-woman show possible.

Holding an audience is no mean feat for a large cast. Doing it with just two actors on stage at any given time is even more difficult.

“It’s not a farce, it’s not running in and out and slamming doors. It’s very conversational, very moment to moment driven,” she said.

“You feel the tension. They have a rocky start, but the resistance that each one has, trying to resist liking the other is the energy” that keeps the audience engaged, Orndorff said.

That’s one reason bringing “Grace” to life has been quite a challenge for actress Jude Wynne.

While the intimacy of a two-person scene isn’t that much of a challenge on a movie or television screen, it’s a major feat for a live stage production.

“A two character play is extraordinarily intense. It’s my first experience doing one,” she said.

And much of “Grace & Glorie” is the quiet interplay between the two women on their path to friendship.

“The whole dynamic of the play is between two people,” Wynne said. “I’m finding that extremely challenging.”

There were some more practical considerations for the actress, as well.

Preparation for the part included “listening to Virginia accents, that’s for sure,” Wynne said. “Because Grace is a mountain woman, and I’m as Yankee as they come.”

Pre-production work wasn’t quite done earlier this week, but a sneak peak at the sets showed production values to be high.

Grace’s cabin, the one set for the play, was filled with vintage furniture and fixtures guaranteed to rekindle memories of childhood visits to the homes of great-grandparents in some viewers.

The set carries the slightly claustrophobic feel of a small place packed with the possessions of a lifetime.

“It’s not a comfy little, cozy feeling cottage,” Orndorff said. “Her grandson takes her home from the hospital and dumps her in the cottage and leaves.”

“She’s had all the things from her big house moved here, because she’s sold her farm,” she said. “She’s been allowed to stay here until she passes, and then they’re going to tear this down, too.”

Music, three old-time hymns in particular, also plays a special role in the play. Orndorff said the recordings were “awesome” and were a fantastic addition to the atmosphere of Grace’s Virginia homestead.

A piece of Grace’s fictional home will help some real hospice patients.

The Brumfield Quilters, from Warrenton, heard about the production and stitched a quilt containing blocks of material salvaged at an estate sale.

Some pieces appear to be more than 75 years old, according to the quilters.

Grace’s Flower Garden, as the quilt is called, will be raffled off after the show closes to raise money for Blue Ridge Hospice.

Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com

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