Sara and Sam are brother and sister, and we first find them in a cemetery, not long after their Dad’s funeral. They are detached from the emotion of the occasion, though not above self-medicating. They go to one of Dad’s favorite watering holes and Sara winds up going home with Joe (a regular at the bar) and spending the night. The next morning she encounters Joe’s teenage son, Miles, who is quite smitten with her. Later she returns to Joe’s apartment to look for a lost watch, where Miles uses the excuse to make a pass. On her third visit to the cemetery, Sara finds Anna, who left brother Sam to started dating the father.
As you might guess, playwright Ellen Fairey uses the title Graceland metaphorically, perhaps because the father is popular but nobody really knows him (like Elvis?) or maybe it has something to do with the quirky nature of grace. Each of the characters is broken, or a fringe dweller, in one way or another. Sara sells kitchen knives in a shopping mall. Joe is not exactly dashing, but he’s got game when it comes to the ladies. Miles seems hopelessly strange, at an age when assimilating is crucial to kids. An interesting detail of Fairey’s narrative is the advantage of being unsuccessful. If Joe were crushing it as an alpha, he might lack the empathy to help Miles figure out dating. If Sara were pulling a six-figure salary, she might not be so understanding when Miles impulsively kisses her. The characters are kinder than society’s idea of winning would permit them to be. They are not too proud to admit they’re groping for answers and more than a little lost. They have been spared the insufferable quality of arrogance.
It seems in the recent past, a kind of hybrid genre has emerged in contemporary theatre. Perhaps it’s an offshoot of Rabe or Mamet, with barely white collar folks who are drifting, without much sense of purpose. On the whole, the content is too funny (or at least ironic) to be drama and too sad to be comedy. The characters in Graceland are trying their best. But the triggering event of death nudges them to wonder how well anybody knows anybody, and what are they doing, other than treading water. Beneath the bleak yet comical surface, malaise seeps through. We don’t get the tango between despair and hilarity we might find in say, Broadway Bound or House of Blue Leaves. That being said, Graceland has a supple, magnanimous quality to it, understated thought it may be. By the final curtain, they may not have left behind the gutter of inertia, but they are still looking at the stars.
L.I.P. Service presented Graceland from November 2nd-18th, 2017. 2535 Valley View Lane, Farmers Branch, Texas 75234. www.lipserviceproductions.info. 817-689-6461.7 68817 689 6461 9 6461