First produced in Houston, Texas, before moving to New York in 1980, TO GRANDMOTHER’S HOUSE WE GO has finally made the journey to Los Angeles – and not a moment too soon. This lively comedy-drama produces both laughter and tears as it dissects the lives of Grandie Emma’s sprawling family tree. Author Joanna McClelland Glass has carefully examined their lives with compassion, humor, and love. Born in Canada (and well-known and appreciated in Canada for her spot-on studies of depression-era Canadians on the wind-swept prairie), Glass became an American citizen at the age of 28, carrying her prodigious talents South of the border. Now the Group Rep breathes life into one of her finest tales.
Grandie Emma (Dianne Travis) lives in her sprawling Victorian home in a small town in Connecticut with her retired brother Jared (Jeffrey Winner), her daughter Harriet (Maria Kress), and her cook/companion Clemmie (Lareen Faye). It’s 1981, and tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Grandie is an empty-nester, and very content to remain one. But Thanksgiving is a big day for her big family, and it’s a tradition that every year the kids – and grandkids – come home to celebrate the holiday. But this year is going to be a little different.
As her grandchildren journey to Connecticut, it become clear pretty quickly that all is not well with the branches on her family tree. Muffy (Beccy Quinn) is getting a divorce and has decided to recover from her depression by moving in with Grandie. Paul (Cecil Jennings) is a single parent with a failed marriage behind him – and is getting ready to hop back on the horse with Twyla (Raquel Brooks), his high powered real estate fiancée. But the two and Paul’s offspring need a place to call home – and, after all, Grandie has this big house. Beatrice (Tessa Grace) has already cut the spousal cord and is having a long-distance relationship with her two sons, who live with their father. Having another drink doesn’t seem to be solving her feelings of abandonment and loneliness. Only Grandie’s daughter Harriet, who was widowed young and raised her three kids by her shirttails, seems to have come to terms with her life as a greeting card artist. She keeps her perpetual canvas in the living room, where she spends days painting her intense emotions into apples, red and delicious.
This simmering intergenerational stew contains lots of elements to tweak the imagination – and turn Grandie’s family into our very own relatives – relatives we may have deemed cringeable in the extreme. Playwright Glass has nailed this 1980’s family with all its prejudices, warts, and conflicted capacity to love. The play is set at that transition spot between then and now when values and behaviors were rapidly changing into something new. Almost ahead of her time, Glass has also highlighted a frequently uncomfortable family dynamic which has become more common with time – and the pandemic. A time when all of those independent adult kids want to return home, a place where – despite their renewed child-like dependence – they also feel loved and safe and ready to make the trade-off.
Director Linda Alznauer has done a superb job of digging deep into the ties that hold families together – or drive them apart. Of course, she is lucky to have an excellent, talented cast who do justice to the funny, conflicted, wounded characters who inhabit Grandie’s family. This is a must-see for anyone who has a family (and I guess that means most of us). The production is alternately touching, tender, and hilarious. And it is a realistic snapshot that can’t fail to remind audience members of their own families. Congratulations, Group Rep. A job well done.
TO GRANDMOTHER’S HOUSE WE GO runs through March 6, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Group Rep performs at the Lonny Chapman Theatre located at 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets are $30 (seniors and students $25; parties 10+ $20). For information and reservations, call 818-763-5990 or go online.