Sunday, September 27, 2009

review - Painting Churches

Painting Churches
by Tina Howe
directed by Kappy Kilburn
Rep à Trois
the GROUP rep
@ Lonny Chapman Theatre
through November 8

Tina Howe wrote the lovely play Painting Churches to honor, in their later years, a mother, father and their daughter, whose relationships are most definitely dysfunctional but endearing nonetheless. It premiered in the 80s soon after the success of Ernest Thompson's On Golden Pond, another witty play about a daughter's physical and emotional distance from her parents. Norman Thayer of Pond is a retired professor and aging curmudgeon, while Gardner Church of Churches, former Poet Laureate, is more seriously and sadly suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. The play has a beautiful symmetry if the 3 actors are in tune. In this production unevenly directed by Kappy Kilburn, the results are very unbalanced.

Diane Frank as Fanny Church has not yet found the central motivation of her character, as she is all over the place with her emotions. She overacts everything, destroying much of the humor and must learn to blend in more smoothy with her 2 partners. As is, it is difficult to determine at times just who is the Alzheimer's victim. Fanny is there to support Gardner - yes, overprotective, for good reason! - and has a sense of humor, but Frank is missing much of it. Think Sada Thompson or Katharine Hepburn! When something like this happens (I'm an actor, too!), I usually blame the director as well as the actor, for not insisting that the performance stay on course. Edgar Mastin as Gardner is near to perfect in his approach to the character's loss of perspective. He moves along like nothing is wrong, but screws up everything; Mastin takes the natural approach to dottiness, which works nicely. The performance to savor here is from Krisztina Koltai as daughter Margaret, affectionately called Mags by her parents. She is our window to the Churches. Somewhat self-absorbed in her art - she's a painter - she has lost track of her father's condition and her mother's treatment of him, and, with her visit, the play focuses in on her attempt to emotionally connect to the two, as she is also trying to paint their portrait. Her monologue at the end of Act I about how she, as an abused teen, takes an absurd punishment and turns it into brilliant creativity is beautifully written by Howe and well-executed by the focused Koltai. Mags' inability to connect to her parents existed in her early years and the problem unfortunately still lingers after all these years.

The end of the play is a glimpse of what used to be or maybe what could still be as the 2 parents dance their troubles into oblivion. In this representation the emotional effect is lessened because of the aforementioned lack of symmetry between the actors. It's like a triangle with one of its sides badly askew.

3 out of 5 stars


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