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Saving Grace, at ETA Creative Arts Foundation. Superior performances and deft direction turn Gail Parrish's overfamiliar story--a child tries to follow her dreams while her mother seeks to squelch them--into a surprisingly satisfying evening. The piece has both too much and too little content. It's crammed with every imaginable family-drama conflict and device--strict mother versus free-spirited cousin, worldly bride-to-be versus poetic fiance, boisterous grandma making sage comments, and a caged bird to top it all off--without bringing much that's fresh to any of them. The first act is so crowded it leaves no room for the one real plot twist, which then blindsides us in act two.

Still, the actresses (and one actor) manage to infuse the work with such warmth that we care about the outcome, however predictable. Of particular note: TaRon Patton keeps us rooting for the unsympathetic mother throughout; Matrice Edge as Grandma Annie shows how buoyancy can skip a generation; and Tabitha Cross as cousin Grace manages her demotion from the play's catalyst to its forgotten mechanism with a million-dollar smile. Director Tiffany U. Trent moves her seamless ensemble expeditiously through the thickets of the plot. She also made the splendid choice to put accompanist Niki Mitchell onstage, where her alert, sympathetic observation of the action focuses ours even as her musical comments elaborate on the story.

--Kelly Kleiman

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