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With Grace there's Glorie

Glorie (Francie Michas, standing) is a hospice volunteer who finds feisty Grace (Joy Johnson) helps her understand life.

Glorie (Francie Michas, standing) is a hospice volunteer who finds feisty Grace (Joy Johnson) helps her understand life.

ALBANY -- When you're the only two actors on stage for an entire play, it helps to already have a good acting relationship.

And then there's that intangible usually referred to as chemistry.

Theatre Albany Director Mark Costello says that chemistry is there between Joy Johnson and Francie Michas, who take the stage Thursday to start the eight-performance, two-week run of "Grace & Glorie."

The show involves two women -- one a young executive from the Northeast, the other a 90-year-old Southern mountain woman who is dying -- and focuses on the relationship they grudgingly develop. The play, written by Tom Ziegler in the mid-1990s, has been performed on Broadway and was the basis for the 1997 movie of the same name.

With Johnson portraying the strong-willed Grace and Michas handling the role of Glorie, Costello says the heartwarming, humorous relationship between the two characters will come through.

"They've worked together before," he said. "In fact, they worked very closely together in a Neil Simon show we did several years ago called 'Lost in Yonkers' where they played mother and daughter. So, they have a history and they work very well together."

That knowledge of each other's technique and style "definitely is a plus factor" in the demanding roles of "Grace & Glorie," he said.

The story centers on the dynamic relationship that matures between the two characters in the course of the play. It is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where the feisty Grace is facing death. She has just gotten out of the hospital and is determined that she will die at her homeplace.

Glorie, meanwhile, has just moved to the area from New York City, where she was a high-level business executive. In the relocation, she has signed up to perform volunteer hospice care and has been assigned the task of providing it to the cantankerous Grace, who just wants to be left alone in her final days in her ramshackle cabin.

If that sounds like the makings of a gloomy tale of woe, Costello says don't be deceived. Critics, in fact, have described the work as "one of Broadway's most heartwarming and funniest plays."

To Costello, the play is a microcosm of life -- a rich mixture.

"I would say it's pretty much like life," he said. "There's lots of humor in the show. If people go out of this show depressed, they're looking at something wrong because it's very life affirming."

The intrinsic bittersweetness of life is "felt with regards to two people with different backgrounds whose circumstances have put them together and they allow personal things to come out," he said. "And ultimately they teach each other in one way or another to deal with what life has put upon them.

"Very life affirming, so it's not depressing at all. Lots of humor and very touching, very moving."

Regular theater goers are likely familiar with Johnson and Michas. In addition to their work together on "Lost in Yonkers," Johnson and Michas have numerous Theatre Albany credits.

Johnson, who Costello says relishes every opportunity to work with Theatre Albany, both on and off stage, has appeared in "Christmas Belles," "The Trip to Bountiful," "On Golden Pond" with her husband of 35 years, Ray, "The Enchanted April" and "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Michas, who has a bachelor of fine arts degree in acting from Kent State University, was last seen locally in "It Runs in the Family." Her other Theatre Albany credits include "Man of La Mancha," "And Then There Were None," "The Man Who Came to Dinner," "Lost in Yonkers," "The 1940's Radio Hour," "The Importance of Being Earnest," "The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940," "Perfect Wedding," "Anything Goes" and "Blithe Spirit."

Costello is directing the production on a set designed by Steve Felmet. The backstage crew is headed by Stage Manager Mary Lou Beasley with Assistant Stage Manager Becky Parker and Master Electrician Tom Parker. Ann Brim Streat is in charge of the makeup.