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.

 

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.