Sunday, March 4, 2012

Painting Churches ***

(Please click on the title to see the full review.)
It is a rare opportunity to see two such fine actors as Kathleen Chalfant and John Cunningham on a New York stage. For me that is reason enough to catch the Keen Company's revival of Tina Howe's 1976 play. In it we meet the Churches -- Gardner (Cunningham), a prize-winning poet now sinking into senility and his wife Fanny (Chalfant), whose constricted life now revolves around caring for her husband. Straitened circumstances have forced them to sell their Beacon Hill townhouse to move to their cottage on Cape Cod. Their daughter Mags (Kate Turnbull), an instructor at Pratt, who has just been promised a solo show at Castelli Gallery, returns to Boston for a rare visit, allegedly to help them pack, but really to paint their portrait. Fanny is a fascinating mixture of imperiousness, cruelty, tenderness, compassion, depression and bravery, all memorably captured by Chalfant's performance. She has a powerful monologue that is the high point of the play. Cunningham lets us see the patrician he was through the impaired man he has become. They vividly convey the togetherness gradually acquired over many years. Unfortunately, their strengths accentuate Turnbull's inadequate performance as Mags. She is far too strident and lacks nuance, which upsets the play's balance. Despite any flaws, the performances by Chalfant and Cunningham provide strong incentive to attend. Beowulf Boritt's set cleverly suggests the outlines of a Beacon Hill living room. Carl Forsman directed. Running time: 2 hours, including intermission.

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