First Look: ‘Painting Churches’ at O’Connell & Company

The cast of “Painting Churches” at O’Connell & Company.

How do you hold on to an image of something dear to you if the image is starting to fade or blur?

“Painting Churches,” on stage at O’Connell & Company from November 9 to 19, 2017 tells the story of an artist who returns to her family home to paint a portrait of her parents as they are preparing to move. There’s the usual tense family dynamic, compounded by reality of Mr. Church’s Alzheimer’s disease.

The need to paint her parents’ portrait holds on many levels meaning.

Helping people understand Alzheimer’s disease is the story within this story. It’s estimated that 5.5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease which causes more deaths than breast and prostate cancer combined. The Alzheimer’s Association of WNY is the community education resource for this production which was partially funded by the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization grant awarded through the Arts Services Initiative of WNY.

To wit, two Talk Back sessions are scheduled following the November 9 and November 16 performances to give audience members a chance to ask questions, and develop a deeper understanding of this disease and the impact it has on sufferers and caregivers.

Above all, “Painting Churches” is a family drama, that’s both challenging and extremely rewarding, says director Lucas Lloyd. It was a Pulitzer Award for Drama finalist in 1984 (“Glengarry Glen Ross” earned the nod that year). “The script is outstanding,” Lloyd says. “It’s gorgeous, funny, original, and deeply affecting.” Strangely it’s not sad or maudlin in handling the delicate story of mental decline. Lloyd says, “The father’s condition is handled with such grace, humor, good nature, and affirmation from start to finish.  Fanny and Gardner are resilient because of their love for each other: that is what keeps them alive and gives them the strength to push through all the changes they’re facing.”

As the director, it’s Lloyd’s job to guide his cast (Tina Rausa, Jack Horohoe, and Sara Kow-Falcone) through the emotional and situational ebbs and flows of a powerful drama with comedic moments. “Finding the right tone has been so important,” he says. The play rolls along at long stretches as broadly, breezily funny, but underneath it all, the hard reality of the father’s condition and the tension in the parent-child relationships stays always present.  The characters are so wonderfully quirky, but also intensely relatable. The gorgeous, difficult heart of it seeks to shine through both the funny and the serious moments. And on top of all that, its artistic style runs a narrow line between kitchen sink realism and pure whimsy.  Finding the dance in all that has been so much fun and so rewarding.”

The audience will also see art in its earliest form. Sara Kow-Falcone as the artist and daughter studied up on art technique to inform her beginning sketches that are part of the story.Kyle Polaske, an art teacher at The Park School of Buffalo, was commissioned to paint the final portrait from descriptions in the script. While the painting isn’t fully revealed to the audience, its presence onstage is a reminder that a portrait – like a good drama – is a very personal interpretation.

See “Painting Churches” onstage in this limited run engagement at The Park School of Buffalo,  425 Harlem Rd., Snyder. For information and tickets call 848-0800 or click here. Stay for the Talk Back sessions on November 9 (Tricia Hughes from the Alzheimer’s Association of WNY will speak) and November 16 when author Jacci Smith Reed speaks about her book “A Stranger in the House” about her experiences caring for her husband. 

Promotional Consideration Paid For By The Theatre Alliance Of Buffalo.