Trish Vradenburg's Surviving Grace, about a workaholic TV producer, her Alzheimer's-threatened mom, her straying dad and the temperamental star she has to coddle and control, is apparently getting a boost in ticket sales due to TV and radio spots, and will see replacement-cast changes in late May.
The comedy-drama opened at Off-Broadway's Union Square Theatre March 12 to not enthusiastic reviews, but the producers were convinced they would be able to find an audience. Broadcast ads targeting women theatregoers and focusing on the play's mother-daughter angle are paying off.
On May 26, star Illeana Douglas, who plays Kate, the daughter, will be replaced May 28 by Valerie Landsburg, remembered for playing Doris in TV's "Fame." Character actress Doris Belack ("Tootsie") plays the mom.
Matt Mulhern takes over the role of Sam Gelman from Armand Schultz May 28. Linda Hart handed over the role of Madge Wellington to Patricia Hodges May 14.
* Previews began Feb. 21, with Illeana Douglas as Kate and Doris Belack as her mom, Grace, whose mind and memory are disappearing due to Alzheimer's disease. The cast also includes Jerry Grayson, Cynthia Darlow and James Hindman.
The play, a revised version of a brief Broadway play called The Apple Doesn't Fall..., is being produced by Nina Benton, with Richard Frankel serving as executive producer and general manager. George Vradenburg, the playwright's husband and executive vice president of AOL/Time Warner, is an investor in the production.
Author Vradenburg, who has penned TV scripts for "Designing Women" and "Family Ties," lost her once-vibrant and politically-active mother to Alzheimer's in 1991. In an August 2001 USA Today interview, author Vradenburg said of the semi-autobiographical play, "Just like Grace [Griswald, the mother], my mom spiraled down quickly... I wanted to keep my mom alive, and this was my way of doing it."
Originally titled The Apple Doesn't Fall..., with the lead mom character called Selma rather than Grace, the work was first staged at L.A.'s Tiffany Theatre in 1996 followed by a disastrous, one-night Broadway stint in April 1996, directed by Leonard Nimoy at the Lyceum Theatre. Retitled Surviving Selma, the play was then mounted in Colorado Springs before the latest round of revisions. It is now Grace-ful.
Jack Hofsiss, who staged the original Elephant Man and Shadow Box, directs Grace. Designing the show are Russell H. Champa (lighting), David Gallo (set), Ann Hould-Ward (costumes) and Guy Sherman/Aural Fixation (sound).
As for the cast, Douglas, the granddaughter of Melvyn Douglas, is best known for her filmwork in "Goodfellas," "Search and Destroy" and the recent "Ghost World." Since getting her start at the Neighborhood Playhouse, her New York stage appearances have been rare, though she did appear in James Lapine's The Moment When in 2000. Veteran actress Belack appeared in The Cemetery Club and Social Security. Hindman was in the cast of The Scarlet Pimpernel; Darlow appeared in the Elaine May comedy Taller Than a Dwarf (another play that, coincidentally, was a revised version of an earlier work by its author).
For tickets ($30-$55) and information on Surviving Grace at the Union Square Theatre, call (212) 307-7171.
— By Kenneth Jones
and David Lefkowitz