Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Storefront Church ***

(Please click on the title to see the full review.) 
The final installment of John Patrick Shanley's Church and State trilogy, now in previews at the newly reopened Atlantic Theater mainstage, is quite different from the other two plays, first of all in length. It has two leisurely acts over two hours as compared to their economical 90 minutes. Although not as good as Doubt (not many plays are), it is much better than Defiance. Actors must love Shanley; he certainly can write a juicy part. All six actors get a chance to shine here. Tonya Pinkins, who made such a strong impression in both Milk Like Sugar and Hurt Village earlier this season, gets to use a Spanish accent and show off her beautiful singing voice. Poor Zach Grenier has to keep his face grotesquely contorted throughout the play. The role of Pinkins's Jewish husband fits Bob Dishy like a glove. Ron Cephas Jones, who also impressed in Hurt Village, portrays a pentecostal minister who is spiritually blocked. Jordan Lage is both amusing and convincing as a bank CEO. The central character is Giancarlo Esposito, as the Bronx borough president. The action takes place at the intersection of politics, religion and commerce. It is loosely based on the controversy over redeveloping the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx (which still sits empty today), as well as the current mortgage crisis. The play has its flaws -- it rambles a bit, some of the motivations are unclear (particular those of Pinkins' character), some of the themes are underdeveloped and the final scene doesn't pack as much punch as I hoped it would. The sets by Takeshi Kata are bland, perhaps deliberately so, but the costumes by Alejo Vietti are perfect. Shanley's direction is assured. and full of grace notes.  Although far from perfect, it is consistently entertaining. I urge you to see it.

1 comment:

Winthrop D. Thies said...

review by Winthrop D. Thies -- June 7, 2012

The highly lauded and much awarded Shanley has struck out in his latest play, a modern retelling of Wordsworth's "The world is too much with us…getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." But in an age without faith we can no longer identify with a would-be preacher who waits interminably for a message from a Supreme Being. Even as we can no longer hear Wordsworth's "old Triton blow his wreathed horn".

Those who can are now widely seen in both cases as suffering from mental illness. The play thus painfully requires us to understand a totally foreign language.

Again, the characters locked in the struggle between God-humanity and mammon have a stagey, cardboard quality, as in a church morality play. The one character with a measure of complexity is the politician well played by Giancarlo Esposito, from the TV series "Breaking Bad".

In the end splendid ensemble acting, good direction and a fine set cannot redeem a script that fails to engage us. In passing, the gutted and newly rebuilt Atlantic Theater's Linda Gross Theater is superb.