It was getting down to the wire for casting Surviving Grace, a comedy-drama that was scheduled to start previews Jan. 31 at the Union Square Theatre. After weeks of no news, finally word came that Trish Vradenburg's play had moved its dates forward a little and found its cast. Surviving Grace, now starting previews Feb. 21 and opening March 12, stars Illeana Douglas as Kate and Doris Belack as her mom, Grace, with Jerry Grayson, Armand Schultz, Sam Grannett, Cynthia Darlow, James Hindman and Linda Hart also in the cast.
Trish Vradenburg's play follows a workaholic TV producer, her Alzheimers-threatened mom, her straying dad and the temperamental star she has to coddle and control. The show 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, had also been involved in the production.
Jack Hofsiss, who staged the original Elephant Man and Shadow Box, directs Grace, according to spokespersons at the Barlow Hartman press office. Designing the show are Russell H. Champa (lighting), David Gallo (set), Ann Hould-Ward (costumes) and Guy Sherman/Aural Fixation (sound).
The play enjoyed a June 23-July 15 mounting at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theatre in Washington DC. Author Vradenburg, who's done TV scripts for "Designing Women" and "Family Ties," lost her once-vibrant and politically-active mother to Alzheimer's in 1991.
Originally titled The Apple Doesn't Fall..., with the lead character called Selma rather than Grace, Surviving Grace was first staged at L.A.'s Tiffany Theatre in 1996 followed by a disastrous, one-night Broadway stint, 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. Author Vradenburg told Broadway.com the new version has “the skeleton" of the original but is "very much reworked... You can get bad reviews and still survive. I get a lot of letters from people saying that [the play] made a difference to them."
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." Members of Congress were invited to the Kennedy Center staging, in the hopes that the government would want to appropriate even more than the current $520 million being spent this year on Alzheimer's research.
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. Hidman 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 David Lefkowitz