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A helping of Grace

It’s 1943 during the height of World War II and Bremerton is filled with the sounds of the flurry of activity at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Then a snow storm blows into town stranding an eclectic group of people at a place called Grace Diner.

What happens during the storm unfolds as students from King’s West’s Performance Company perform the play, “Grace Diner,” written and directed by Gwen Mansfield today and tomorrow and Nov. 21-23 at King’s West. Today’s performance begins at 7:30 p.m., and tomorrow’s performance begins at 2 p.m. The Nov. 21 and Nov. 22 performances are at 7:30 p.m. with two performances on Nov. 23 at 2 and 6 p.m.

“Twelve years ago, I gave a writing prompt to my theatre students to help with a characterization exercise. It had to do with journeys being interrupted,” Mansfield said. “I began to work on that idea myself and at the time had been doing some research on my dad’s commitment to the Marines in World War II. Those two ideas became the catalyst for Grace Diner.”

The play is considered in the modern genre of “tragicomedy,” where comedy and serious themes are equally balanced, she said.

Among the travelers stranded at the diner is war correspondent Marge Mathews, who says, “Once you’ve eaten at the Diner, your life will never be the same,” and Doris Rhoades, the diner’s owner, who collects used and misused employees, Mansfield said.

There’s also Frank, who suspects everyone of Communist plots, a former lady of the night, Shirley, who is seeking a second chance from a world that gives none and Betty, whose nervous condition is obvious every time her shoulder twitches.

As the menagerie of stranded travelers grows through the three-day snow storm, a violent mystery with a miraculous twist unravels, Mansfield said.

“Doris inherited the diner from “The General,” its original owner, 10 years earlier,” she explained.

The General was a man loved by some of the townspeople for his kindness and generosity, but was hated by the majority of the town for upsetting the norm with his different approach to business, she continued.

“Vigilante law, 1933, comes back to haunt the two men who know the secret of the night the General left town,” she said.

There are 22 students involved in the production including 17 actors and five crew members, and more than 30 volunteers have worked on the set, costumes and era props, she said.

The King’s West Performance Company premiered the play in 1997 and performed it again in 2003, with a production at Admiral Theatre in 1999.

Recent productions by Performance Company include: “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” and “Experiment Station Road,” an original work by Gwen Mansfield that was one of the 2008 “final four” in Reverie Productions’ New York play competition “New Generation of Playwrights.”

“This production’s greatest challenge was the collection of era properties to create a realistic diner set for the war era, World War II,” Mansfield said.

Tickets are $9 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, and $5 for King’s West students. For ticket information, call Janis Miller at (360) 377-7700.

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