Grethe is a white 50-something year old woman who lost her husband all of three weeks before. She’s lives in Chicago, not far from her son Connor and his partner Daniel. As she mourns the loss of her husband, she’s surprisingly hopeful with the new addition to the family: Connor and Daniel’s soon-to-arrive adopted daughter Penny. What Connor failed to tell her was that her new granddaughter was black. And 13 years old.

Though Grethe misses her husband, she sees her new situation as a chance to explore a life she never had as a Midwestern homemaker. She writes a letter to Mhambi, an old ‘friend’ from college who happens to be a debonair Nigerian poet living in London. Their reconnection awakens long-forgotten emotions, and Mhambi comes to visit Grethe a couple of months later, much to the dismay of her still-grieving son Connor. It certainly doesn’t help that Penny’s adjustment to her new family isn’t going as swimmingly as Connor and Daniel had hoped; the couple ponders sending her back to the agency she came from.

Playwright Cody Daigle composes a script that elicits belly laughs, sympathy, and perhaps even a tear (not from me, of course). Rather than being conduits for a single protagonist’s story, each character is a complete, 3-dimentional person who shows a range of emotions. Grethe’s character is especially brilliant. While she starts out as a slightly over-bearing, judgmental mother, we see her express true concern for her son and his partner, extend a loving hand to her adopted granddaughter, and exhibit giddy, almost teen-like behavior around Mhambi. Each of the actors conveys their character’s emotions and motivations effectively, and the cast’s chemistry on stage is outstanding!

I found this show to be unusually optimistic in its portrayal of old(er) age. Grethe has just lost her husband, but rather than wallowing in her grief and feeling sorry for herself, she took the opportunity to change her life. Mhambi comes, and their connection is instant! And what makes this situation more relatable to me is that it’s far from ideal circumstances. He lives in London, it’s only a few months after her husband’s death, and her son is still very much grieving his father’s death. She’s no spring chicken, and she hasn’t seen this man in 35 years, yet her confidence and affection for him outweigh any insecurity she might have about her age, condition, or situation. It’s certainly not rainbows pouring out of a casket; neither is it gloomy and morbid. I walked away thoroughly entertained.

But if you go, bring a seat cushion. 2.5 hours (including an intermission) is a long time to be sitting on a hard wooden seat!

A Home across the Ocean
The Studio at Theatre Row
By Cody Daigle
Directed by Dev Bondarin
410 W 42nd St.
212-239-2600
www.mtworks.org

Through October 2, 2010:
Tuesdays, 7pm
Wednesdays - Saturdays, 8pm

Tickets are $18.00 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200. For more information visit mtworks.org.

-- D. Kareem, NYCRD Contributor

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