Matt McGrath and Marin Hinkle in Graceland
(© Gregory Costanzo)
Matt McGrath and Marin Hinkle in Graceland
(© Gregory Costanzo)
Tragedy and comedy mix uneasily in Ellen Fairey's Graceland, now being presented by LCT3 at the Duke on 42nd Street. But while Henry Wishcamper's direction sometimes struggles with striking the right tone, he has guided a strong cast, led by the amazing Marin Hinkle, who makes every deeply felt moment seem natural.

Hinkle plays Sara, who has journeyed from New York to Chicago following her father's violent suicide. She and her brother Sam (Matt McGrath) attempt to jump start what seems to have once been a close familial bond, but which time and distance has weathered away. Sam has neglected to tell Sara about a number of important developments in his life, such as his breakup with girlfriend Anna (Polly Lee), who had a suspiciously close relationship to the siblings' recently deceased father.

Following a drunken night of grieving, Sara goes home with Joe (Brian Kerwin), a middle-aged man who tries to romance her by playing a Nina Simone record. While Sara envisions their encounter as a one-night stand, things become more complicated once she meets his teenage son Miles (David Gelles Hurwitz), whose obvious crush on Sara might possibly be reciprocated.

Fairey writes some amusing dialogue and one particularly funny and farcical scene that brings the majority of the characters into the same room. However, the playwright also relies a little too heavily on a misplaced pocket watch to provide forward momentum. In the dramatic arena, Fairey pens a few genuinely touching moments, but overall, the play could use a greater emotional heft.

The actors, however, give it their all. McGrath conveys the sad aimlessness of his character, while Hurwitz is a treat as the eager yet awkward teen. Kerwin is best in the scenes with Hurwitz, as they create a believable father-son dynamic that is both complicated and endearing. Lee does what she can with a slimly developed part.

Several scenes take place in the Graceland Cemetery, which gives the play it's name. Scenic designer Robin Vest has surrounded the playing area with a photorealistic daytime view of the graveyard, mounted on the surrounding walls of the set. The sky is pure blue, and the trees seem almost three-dimensional. It's a serene image that contrasts nicely with the turmoil in several of the characters' lives.