Newton Fusco’s ‘Tending to Grace’ will debut in November
By JACKIE ROMAN, Breeze & Observer Staff Writer
FOSTER – Acclaimed author and Foster resident Kimberly Newton Fusco still has to pinch herself sometimes. It’s been more than a decade since her first novel, “Tending to Grace,” debuted to positive reviews.
Since then she’s written four more books and toured the country for speaking engagements and other events.
And now the novel that started it all has been adapted into a play, cast and staged by Foster’s Swamp Meadow Community Theatre. The final product will debut in November.
“It’s still very, ‘Pinch me – am I dreaming?’” Fusco said, reflecting on her path to the present.
Indeed, this reality is one Fusco has been dreaming of since she was a young girl.
As a child, she had a slight stutter, which prompted her toward silence. It was through writing that she gained the confidence to speak up.
“When I was young and I couldn’t communicate, writing became my voice,” she said.
In 2002 Fusco got to share that voice with the world when her novel “Tending to Grace” was published by New York publishing company Alfred A. Knopf.
“It’s very autobiographical,” Fusco said.
The book’s protagonist is a young girl named Ophelia, who has a stutter.
“It touches into the universal, that we all have something we’re embarrassed of,” Fusco said. In essence, we all have our stutter.
The book’s themes of identity and self-acceptance are taught in classrooms across the country.
Laurie Murphy had been reading the novel to her own class at Captain Isaac Paine Elementary School in Foster for years, but when she retired two years ago, she finally had the opportunity to bring Ophelia to life.
Murphy asked Fusco for her blessing to go ahead and write a play based on “Tending to Grace.”
“I just said go ahead,” Fusco said. After reading the finished product, which took Murphy more than a year to write, Fusco can confirm, “It’s beautiful.”
Murphy is co-directing the play with Liz Dubois, and this past weekend the pair spent hours inside the Benjamin Eddy Building hosting auditions for the play.
“We’re very excited to do a local show, inspired by a local author,” Dubois said.
Dubois said the play will be staged in a minimalist style. Instead of an assortment of props, the directors are employing lighting as a storytelling device. This will help differentiate Ophelia’s quiet public face from her more talkative and thoughtful inner dialogue.
“I’m telling you right now, the audience is going to be crying,” said Dubois.
Murphy agreed that the play deals with some emotional material – abandonment, anxiety, self-doubt. But it’s also a story about opening up to intimacy and the concept of “found family.”
This is the kind of meaningful material Murphy likes to see community theater create.
“The arts, we need to keep them alive,” Murphy said. “We see kids in particular who may be really shy, but not in theater. It’s sort of an outlet for some kids.”
Dubois said local theater can provide people with a sense of belonging. Over the course of a few months, a cast and crew tends to grow close.
“There’s something strangely intimate about producing theater,” Dubois said. “Everybody just feels like family.”
*Editor’s note: the protagonist’s name is Cornelia, not Ophelia.