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A grand stage creation

To Grandmother's House We Go, Starring Eva Le Galliene, Kim Hunter. By Joanna M. Glass. Directed by Clifford Williams. A narrow road winds down the cover of the Biltmore Theater Playbill. The road ends in the foreground at a house with two lighted windows. The windows signal the welcome awaiting the grown-up children come to spend Thanksgiving with Grandie (Eva Le Gallienne) at her comfortably old-fashioned home outside Hartford, Conn. Hence the symbolic road and destination of Joanna M. Glass's new comedy "To Grandmother's House We Go."

Miss Glass employs such familiar ingredients as the family reunion, sibling relationships, and the brand-new prospective in-law. Fortunately, the playwright has a gift for sharp portraiture, shrewd observation, and comically relevant dialogue. The road to grandmother's house is certainly recognizable, but the tour guide casts some fresh light on the old landmarks and signposts.

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Miss Glass's grandest creation is Grandie herself -- one of those spritely octogenarians who looks at life with a combination of philosophy, humor, and candor. Grandie was just waiting to be played by a star of Miss Le Gallienne's wit and charisma. Miss Le Gallienne responds to her with all of the abundant artifice and expressive authority at her command. The result is a series of amusing, provocative, and sometimes touching dialogues as Grandie contemplates the trials and tribulations of her grandson and two grand- daughters -- all of whose marriages "have gone berserk."

Unobtrusively staged by Clifford Williams, "To Grandmoter's House We go" receives the kind of responsive performance every playwright must hope for. For Grandie's contemporaries, there are Shepperd Strudwick giving a gracefully tactful portrayal as brother Jared, a mellow retired art professor-critic, and Ruth Nelson as a holdover from the days when devoted nannies served the affluent. The attractive Kim Hunter brings a measured maternalism to the part of Grandie's daughter, Harriet, a greeting-card illustrator who has taken up painting since her children were grown.

The self-centered children, each looking for a temporary haven under Grandie's hospitable roof, are admirably acted by Pamela Brook as Muffy, the weeping not-quite-divorcee; Anne Twomey as the bitter, vicious-tongued Beatrice; and Paul Snell as a single parent about to remarry. Leslie Denniston is prettily firm as Twyla, Paul's live-in girlfriend and intended bride of the California real estate broker with developmental dreams for any available acres in the Nutmeg State.

While she is reasonably sympathetic to their plight, Miss Glass obviously disapproves of the disinclination among these self-seeking young folk to quite adolescent dependency and stand on their own feet. A matinee preview audience applauded when Mom spoke up and spoke out.

Notwithstanding a fairly predictable second-act plot surprise and the resolute efforts of the cast, interest tends to diminish as the end of the play approaches and the author signals the retreat from grandmother's house. There is little left to do but wonder how the young people are going to make their exits gracefully and perhaps straighten out their mixed-up lives. Miss Glass has done her best by them and, at her best the Canadian-born dramatist has debuted on Broadway with some superior playmaking.

The production has been greatly helped by its designers. The slightly faded but luxuriently floral wallpaper of Ben Edwards's homey setting contrasts with the autumn leaves outside the French windows. The set has been warmly lighted by Marc B. Weiss. Jane Greenwood designed the attractive costumes.

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