Hankies can be a great prop and utilitarian accessory for audience members seeing “Grace and Glorie” unfolding today through Saturday at the Harlequin Theatre inside FairOaks Mall.

They can dry tears of sweet heartache. Or wipe away the overflow of heartfelt laughter from the eyes of viewers.

“Definitely, bring your tissues,” April Knox said.

She’s starring with actress Jill Tasker in the sometimes-dramatic comedy about a cantankerous, 90-year-old cancer patient nearing life’s end and her 40-something, tense, guilt-ridden hospice volunteer. Harlequin founder and director Robert Hay-Smith first presented it locally a decade ago at the former Bartholomew County Senior Center.

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Then as now, Knox played Gloria (“Glorie” comes from an adjusted name for her), the Harvard MBA-trained New York businesswoman who suddenly finds herself volunteering to sit with Grace, a self-described backwoods redneck spending her last days in her Virginia farm cottage.

“I have a little more (life) experience now,” said Knox, who since then, with the help of her family, actually did provide care for a man in his final days.

The actress mentioned that she has drawn from that period in her life to make her role that much more realistic.

Tasker’s professional acting background includes television work on the WB’s “The Wayans Brothers” in 1995-96 and a Broadway appearance with Joan Collins in “Private Lives” in 1992. Though she initially struggled slightly to connect with her elderly Grace character when she first saw the script, she now sees tremendous beauty in how two very different women forge one bond.

“They eventually find some shared experiences,” Tasker said, “and some real connections.”

And they find a wellspring of emotion in some scenes. Tasker acknowledged she hardly is the heart-on-her-sleeve type, unlike her actor-husband, Doug Stender, who openly agrees that he’s a softie.

“He cries over a well-made sandwich,” Tasker deadpanned.

Knox acknowledged she always has been a compassionate soul who has had to learn to turn slightly crusty for her renewed role.

“I’ve actually had to think of some people in my life who have been kind of brash,” Knox said.

Hay-Smith mentioned that he always has found the story to be “very touching. But be prepared to laugh.”

He said audiences will be drawn to each of the two characters, who fray each other’s nerves in some scenes like pre-teen sisters with cabin fever. For instance, in one scene as Glorie eats lobster salad, Grace laughingly shares that she thinks of the crustaceans as “giant cockroach bugs.”

“I love them both,” the director said of the women. “I love Grace for what she is. And I love Glorie for what she isn’t.”

The trio has made the set to be as homespun as possible. An antique-looking chair came from Knox’s great-great uncle. A handmade bed quilt came from her grandmother. A suitcase from World War II belonged to her uncle. A U.S. Army jacket from Vietnam came from Tasker’s uncle. And a women’s shawl shown throughout the play came from Hay-Smith’s aunt.

The production offers an added, rural feel via recorded, mountain gospel tunes interspersed between various scenes.

Tasker summarized very simply the duo’s unlikely and growing friendship and eventual acceptance of their differences and uniqueness.

“Here you have a story,” Tasker said, “of two women who save each other.”

If you go

What: The comedy, “Grace and Glorie,” about the unfolding relationship between a hospice volunteer and the 90-year-old cancer patient she is helping.

When: 7 p.m. today through Saturday.

Where: Harlequin Theatre inside FairOaks Mall, 2380 25th St. in Columbus.

Tickets: For adults, $15 in advance at the venue, and $20 at the door. Student tickets are $10 at the door.

Refreshments: A cash bar is available.

Information: 812-343-4597 or theharlequintheatre.com.

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.