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Writing for CurtainUp NYC Weather
|A CurtainUp Review
By Gordon Osmond
In Grace and Glorie, a grumpy old bible-thumping hillbilly comes to accept her preppy Upper West Side caregiver. In Jeff Baron's totally Eli Wallach-dependent Visiting Mr. Green, a grumpy old Upper West Sider comes to accept his preppy gay caregiver.
Any reason not to have another grumpy old Upper West Sider come to accept a black caregiver? Andrea Stolowitz, the author of Knowing Cairo, which is having its world premiere at the Old Globe's Cassius Carter space in San Diego apparently thought not. To be sure, bridge-building between the elderly and their unchosen younger caregivers is familiar fodder for playwrights, and the parallels between the earlier works and Knowing Cairo are, as of the end of Act I, borderline embarrassing and go far beyond this fixation with the Upper West Side. Sexual segregation seems to be de rigueur as well, as all three plays feature single-sex relationships.
However, Knowing Cairo finally achieves a substantial edge over its inferior prototypes due to the Act II development of the onstage presence of a third character, the elderly mother's daughter. She is a busy psychiatrist (no shortage of madness out there) who enlists the assistance of Winsom, a young black caregiver who is both experienced and financially challenged. After a predictably rocky introduction, and somewhat too suddenly, Winsom and mum become chums to the point where the daughter becomes jealous of their friendship. The conflicts that then emerge among the three characters, catalyzed by the planning of the mother's 80th birthday party, are somewhat murky, but that very ambiguity gives the audience more to do than simply wallow in the warmth of human reconcilliation. And at the end there is delicious doubt, reminiscent of My Cousin Rachael, as to whether Winsom is sinner or saint. The genuine tragedy is that the mother has in any event been victimized, whether by Winsom's vice or by the daughter's morbid reaction to her virtue. The brilliance of Marilyn Chris' performance as the mother eclipses the efforts of her two co-stars, but even this imbalance well serves the playwright's purpose.
The play has been given a commendable production in the totally huggable Cassius Carter space. Particularly notable are Paul Peterson's simple, yet totally right sound design, and Jennifer Brawn Gittings' completely fitting costumes. An inspired touch is represented by the mother's change in hairstyle once she has been energized by her beloved caretaker. Touches like this prove once again that glory is, indeed, in the details leading us to a production that is ultimately both satisfying and stimulating.