Theatre Review: ‘Painting Churches’ at O’Connell & Company

“Painting Churches” follows the story of Fanny and Gardiner Church and their daughter, Mags, as they prepare to pack up and move from their home in Boston to Cape Cod year-round. As can be expected with any family dynamic, the strains between characters are there – but what the actors show the audience is the endearing and compelling story of a small family grappling with the onset of Alzheimer’s in the patriarch of the Church family.

. . .The direction of Lucas Lloyd in conjunction with the wonderful talents of the actors made this production a must-see.

Fanny Church (Tina Rausa) is the sole caretaker of her ailing husband, and handles it with humor; this sometimes makes the character come off as mocking, but Rausa brings to the character compassion and ease of presence. Rausa never fails to get the laugh as she tromps around in galoshes nearly as large as her head and recreates famous paintings with Gardiner sprawled across the steps of their home.

Mags Church (Sara Kow-Falcone) arrives home to assist her parents with another wish as well: to paint their portrait. Mags has unresolved issues with her childhood and her parents which gradually present themselves, but Kow-Falcone is so easily her character that I found myself enthralled with her performance even in the most difficult moments. The entire show is a subtle power struggle between Mags and her parents in order to determine on whose terms this portrait is painted.

Gardiner Church (Jack Horohoe) is a loving father and husband as well as an award-winning poet slowly declining as the Alzheimer’s takes hold. Gardiner is still dedicated to his poetry, and randomly spouts lines of poems throughout the play. Horohoe is charmingly absent as Gardiner, very convincingly portraying the disease addling his mind.

The dynamic between Mags and Fanny is strained at times as Mags comes to terms with her father’s illness and not quite agreeing with how Fanny is handling the situation. Through this, the three Churches show off their quirky antics on stage and find a common ground despite their differences. Fanny and Gardiner, being high-brow traditional people, never expected their daughter to become a free spirited artist. In the end, we see a reconciliation between Mags and her parents as the portrait is finally finished.

The small space in O’Connell & Company is intimate enough that the small cast of three filled the space very well, and the set design on the two-tiered stage made the Church residence appear much larger than the stage would be expected to allow. The direction of Lucas Lloyd in conjunction with the wonderful talents of the actors made this production a must-see.

Running time: 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission.

“Painting Churches” runs until November 19, 2017 and is presented at O’Connell & Company at The Park School of Buffalo. For more information, click here.