Review: Saving Graceland

by Lynn on June 30, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Memorial Hall, Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont. Playing until Aug. 3, 2024.

Written by Gil Garratt

Directed by James MacDonald

Set and lighting by Beth Kates

Costumes by Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston

Sound by Troy Slocum

Cast: Goldie Garratt

Caroline Gillis

Amy Keating

Cameron Laurie

J.D. Nicholsen

A tender family love-story with heart-ache mixed, with dollops of Elvis for quirkiness. It could use another pass of reflection and revision.

From the Blyth website (sort of): “It’s 2019 in Clinton, ON. Newly retired and ready for adventure, Gord (J.D. Nicholsen) and Orillia (Caroline Gillis) have been Elvis fans since they were teenagers. In twenty-five years, they’ve never missed their annual pilgrimage to the Collingwood Elvis Festival. Having sold their business, they’re now ready to embrace nothing but Presley and the CPP. But when their only grandchild Dylan (Goldie Garratt) arrives on the doorstep at 1 am and they can’t find their daughter, Lauren (Amy Keating), everyone’s future plans are upended in ways no one dreamed.

A love-me-tender family drama about the King and kincare.”

Also. Gord and Orillia were preparing to take a very early morning flight to Hawaii to visit the various locations of the Elvis film, “Blue Hawaii,” when they saw that their granddaughter was at the door. They naturally had to cancel their plans. Gord gets invited to the Collingwood Elvis Festival to perform his Elvis impersonation. He’s thrilled and goes into overdrive to prepare. But then he learns this is the last year of the festival.

With Dylan (a very confident, assured Goldie Garratt) staying with them, Gord and Orillia have to make plans about taking care of her and perhaps applying for guardianship. Gord needs a job to take care of the added expenses and asks Ben (Cameron Laurie), the man who bought Gord’s garage business. Ben is agreeable. Ben is also a friend of Lauren’s and we learn, liked her a lot in high school, but Lauren never returned the affection to that extent. We wonder if Ben is Dylan’s father.

Playwright Gil Garratt has created a touching ache of a play about two seniors who want to enjoy their retirement but can’t because they have to take care of their young granddaughter. Their troubled daughter is nowhere to be found, and matters are fraught.

The characters of Gord and Orillia are well drawn, and beautifully played by J.D. Nicholsen and Caroline Gillis respectively. J.D. Nicholsen brings out the lively playfulness of Gord. He’s buoyant and almost boyish about the trip to Hawaii. Later he’s excited that he can do his Elvis impression one more time at the Collingwood Elvis Festival. Gord is matter of fact, perhaps a bit oblivious to things around him, like Orillia, but he is kind and has charm, thanks to J.D. Nicholsen’s playing of him.

Caroline Gillis as Orillia, is the ‘grown-up’ here. She constantly chides Gord for his silliness, but it’s done with love. Orillia, though, seems lost, she has lost herself in tending to her daughter when Lauren was growing up. She is still at sea and facing taking care of Dylan makes her anxious that she will lose herself again.

It’s also a play of forgiveness. Lauren seems to want to make a drastic decision regarding Dylan and Gord and Orillia plead with her not to do it, for her own sake. Gil Garratt has given a hint that Lauren (Amy Keating) does care for her daughter—when the police find her and return her to her parents late one night, Lauren wants to see her daughter. Because of her strung-out state and the lateness of the hour, the parents refuse. It’s a small scene, but we get the sense Lauren cares for her child. Amy Keating as Lauren is subdued as one embarrassed about her situation would be. There is a touching scene with Ben (Cameron Laurie) as Lauren and Ben reminisce. Cameron Laurie as Ben is a caring, decent man, who obviously has feelings for Lauren.

Director James MacDonald brings out the loving relationships in the play, and illuminates the beating heart of all the characters.

I think that the play needs another re-think and re-write. We need more information about Lauren and Ben individually and together. Lauren makes some huge decisions, one of which towards the end needs to be more developed so that the conclusion is not a surprise or startling. There obviously is more to the friendship between Ben and Lauren for Ben to give her advice on what to do. That needs to be developed more as well for us to trust why he is giving her advice.

It’s a lovely play, but it could be stronger with another edit.   

The Blyth Festival Presents:

Plays until Aug. 3, 2024.

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (1 intermission)

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