Goodnight, Grace: Walkers bring Players production to life
Column by Chris Graham
Grace thinks Alex is, well, a prowler. She saw him climbing in her window, after all. Alex doesn’t mind that she thinks what she thinks. He thinks it adds a bit of mystery. And hey, she is wearing a bikini with a coconut top and not much else.
You’re not going to believe who are bringing Alex and Grace to life in the upcoming Waynesboro Players production of Saving Grace. Try former Waynesboro City Manager Doug Walker and his wife, Llyn Walker.
The Walkers have been doing community theater since Doug’s days as an assistant county administrator in Spotsylvania County, but they’ve never been on stage together.
“Our rule has always been, because it is so demanding, that one person has to hold the fort down,” said Llyn Walker, an architect by day, who says she doesn’t mind “the pile of papers stacked up on my desk, the dust bunnies behind the door. Because we’re having the time of our lives.”
Doug Walker decided that he had to give up community theater when he moved to Waynesboro in 2003 to take over as city manager. Since stepping down as city manager in 2008, he has performed at Oak Grove Theater and last year had parts in the Players’ production of Shenandoah Moon.
Alex is the biggest part he’s had, he said, and has him on stage for long stretches with his wife, who is also an accomplished jazz vocalist. “She’s a much more experienced actor than I am. And I would say just more talented. Not to diminish what I think I’m able to do, but she’s just very good,” Doug Walker said of his wife.
“People get tired of us when we say those kinds of things about each other,” Llyn Walker said when I let her know about Doug’s genuflection. But Llyn does steal the show as Grace, a nervous young secretary who tries clumsily to seduce her boss before Alex arrives to fix her telephone.
Director Craig Cavanaugh wasn’t thinking about Llyn at all when he was casting Grace. Llyn had read for the part of Harriet, Grace’s older sister, and asked after that reading if she could do a reading for Grace, who overcomes her nervousness around her boss and around Alex by mimicking characters from movies from the 1930s and 1940s.
“She blew me away when she read for the part. I said, Wow. Then I started putting it together. Doug is here, Llyn is here. Let’s pair them up. They have natural chemistry,” Cavanaugh said.
But they’re each their own person, as fellow cast member Wendi Shorkey learned in getting to know the Walkers.
“I almost wouldn’t have thought that they were married up front. They each came in and did their own thing with their character. It wasn’t until a conversation a few weeks into the production that I knew they were married,” said Shorkey, a teacher at Hugh K. Cassell Elementary School in Augusta County.
“They’re very serious about what they do. They work independently though they support each other strongly,” Shorkey said.
Speaking of strong – that Llyn Walker looks like she could do some damage with the abs of steel that she’s developed to account for the long period that she spends on stage wearing the bikini with a coconut top. Llyn hired a personal trainer to whip herself into shape.
“You have nightmares of going on stage in your underwear. This is a big fear. You feel very vulnerable. I’m in a bikini with coconut tops for half the play. You can’t show that fear of vulnerability,” she said.
Grace, channeling Grace Allen, couldn’t have said it better herself.
Goodnight Gracie, indeed.
WHEN: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m.
WHERE: Kate Collins Middle School Auditorium, Waynesboro
Video: A scene from Saving Grace