Grace Charles' memory is fading, but she never forgets she was once accepted to the world-renowned Juilliard.
But she didn't get to go.
"Something tragic happened to her, and she never made it to New York," says Ava Brewster Turner, UpStage Theatre's founder and executive artistic director. "Now, all of her hope is riding on her granddaughter, Caroline."
The only problem is Caroline isn't showing any interest in attending America's top school for the performing arts in "My Julliard," Gloria J. Browne's drama that UpStage will premiere Feb. 18 in the company's new Cortana Mall space.
Browne will fly in from New York for opening night, conducting a session afterward.
The story tells of Alzheimer's, failed dreams, hope and disappointment all packaged in family secrets when Grace, played by Crystal Jefferson, her daughter Deborah, played by Keyaira Augustus, and granddaughter Caroline, played by Mystique Price, pile into a car headed for Kansas City.
That's Grace's hometown, where her father earned a high salary as a Pullman porter for the railroad, enabling her to take piano lessons.
Grace's teacher was white, and she believed Grace's talent could win her an audition for the Juilliard School in New York. Grace aced the audition and earned a spot at the school, but a personal tragedy kept her from going.
"Later in life, Grace hopes her daughter will go to Juilliard, but she is a failed artist," Turner says. "Deborah wants to sing, but Grace doesn't think that's a good idea. And when Deborah fails, she gets married and has Caroline, but her marriage is a failure, as well."
But Caroline isn't. Deborah puts her daughter through music lessons, specifically piano, and Caroline shows the the same level of talent as her grandmother. But she doesn't have the same desire to go to New York.
And through it all, Deborah and Caroline learn their family history through Grace's long-term memories, including the time she shared the stage with celebrated African-American contralto Marian Anderson.
But Deborah and Caroline also see external problems connected to Grace's fading short-term memory. For one, she's sold all of the furniture in her house, including her baby grand piano she calls "My Juilliard" for a cheap price to a stranger.
Jefferson has first-hand understanding in playing Grace. As a nurse, she's worked with elderly patients whose memories may not be complete. She's also heard a family member talk about sometimes clearly remembering things from long ago but not the day before.
"It's the same line Grace says in the play," Jefferson says. "It made me stop and think. This is real."
"And this scares Caroline," Price adds. "She's afraid it's going to happen to her."
Caroline doesn't want to disappoint her mom and grandmother, but she also wants to take her on path in life through composing music, not playing it.
Deborah, meanwhile, has always dreamed of becoming a writer, but the story that concerns her now is her mother's because the trip back to Kansas City not only unleashes past memories but hidden family secrets. And those secrets could tear this trio apart.
"It's a strong play that has so many layers," Turner says. "This is the second play we've performed by Gloria Browne. She was the winner of our annual Emerging Playwright competition in 2012 with her play 'Killing Me Softly,' and we're excited to be the first to perform her new play."
An UpStage Theatre production
WHEN: 3 p.m. Feb. 18 and Feb. 25; 7 p.m. Feb. 24
WHERE: UpStage Theatre, Entrance 1, Cortana Mall, 9401 Cortana Place.
TICKETS/INFO: $21. (225) 924-3774 or upstagetheatre.biz