Saving Graceland

Thank you. Thank You Very Much.

Reviewed by Debbie McClure

Playwright Gil Garratt brings a family and a serious subject to life through wit, quick one-liners, and deep reflection in Saving Graceland. Not only is it a tribute to the one and only great Elvis Presley, but the cast leads the audience through the story of a family’s heartache in dealing with addiction and mental health. While it’s a serious subject that affects too many families, each of the five characters brings real heart and humanity to their roles. Sprinkle in some laughter and of course, great Elvis music, and you’ve got a winner.

Set in 2019 in Clinton, Ontario, we meet newly retired couple Gord and Orillia. They have been Elvis fans since they were teenagers. They’ve never missed an annual trip to the Collingwood Elvis Festival in 25 years. Having sold their business, they’re now ready to embrace nothing but Presley and the CPP. But when they can’t find their daughter, and their only grandchild arrives on the doorstep, everyone’s future plans are upended in ways no one could have predicted.

Cast member Caroline Gillis portrays the angst and reflection of Orillia to perfection with her expressive features and honest approach to life. While Orillia yearns for a life of freedom and fun, and perhaps a bit of adventure, when she’s thrown the curveballs, she catches them with grace. Gordon, played by J.D. Nicholsen, is Orillia’s husband and ultra-Elvis lover. For Gordon, life and his best-laid plans haven’t been going as he envisioned. With his deep love of family and unwavering acceptance of what is, Gordon entertains through wry comments, great body language, and his desire to channel Elvis.

Amy Keating brings heart-breaking depth to her role as Orillia and Gordon’s daughter Lauren. Through Lauren we come to understand some of the background to what’s brought the family to the brink of disaster. Not all questions are answered about Lauren and her past, but there’s a gritty honesty to the character that I hadn’t expected. Cameron Laurie as Ben, provides the perfect foil for some great interaction with Gordon, Lauren, and Dylan. Ben’s direct, open approach to life and appreciation for what makes a family and a friend demonstrate what’s possible when we step out of ourselves to help others. Both of these characters bring a deeper understanding of the complex issues around mental health and addiction, allowing us to see the many sides to healing and acceptance.

Stealing the scenes is Goldie Garratt, who brings a wealth of talent to her role as Lauren’s young daughter, Dylan. Children are often caught in the middle of family struggles, and Dylan is at the centre of the question, “What do we do now?” Not only does Goldie’s character adapt to significant change, but with the resilience of youth, she shines.

Addiction and mental health are a heavy topic for anyone to tackle, but Gil Garratt and Director James MacDonald manage it beautifully. Life is often messy, and there aren’t any easy answers to most of it, but we’re reminded that love and hope make the difference. In addressing the audience, each character takes the opportunity to reflect on what’s happening in their life and how they feel about it. Using wit and laughter keeps the story and characters real and believable. It’s an unexpected approach to a heavy issue that reaches out and touches each member of the audience, sharing a bit of humanity we all experience. Without giving anything away, the final scene is a show-stopper that brings the audience to their feet with loud cheers and clapping for an outstanding performance by all.

Saving Graceland is a masterful telling of a story that’s become all too familiar for many families. Change is never easy, but as Saving Graceland portrays, sometimes the best things come out of hardships.

Saving Graceland continues at the Blyth Festival Memorial Hall until August 3rd. Tickets are available at 519-523-9300 / 1-877-862-5984 or go to

Photo: Upper: J.D. Nicholsen as Gordon/Elvis. Lower: Goldie Garratt as Dylan and J.D. Nicholsen as Gordon. Photos by Gemma James Smith

Saving Graceland
By Gil Garratt
Directed by James MacDonald
Performed by Caroline Gillis, Amy Keating, J.D. Nicholsen, Cameron Laurie, and Goldie Garratt
Blyth Festival, 423 Queen Street, Blyth, Ontario
June 19, 2024 to August 3, 2024
Reviewed by Debbie McClure


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