Play: Painting Churches
Group: Insight Theatre Company
Venue: Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall, 530 East Lockwood Avenue
Dates: July 16, 17, 18, 19
Tickets: From $10 to $20; contact 314-556-1293 or www.insighttheatrecompany.com
Story: Gardner Church and his wife Fanny are preparing to leave their beloved home on Boston’s Beacon Hill for their beach home on Cape Cod. The move is necessary because Fanny needs a more confined space to care for her increasingly addled husband, a poet who is sinking increasingly into dementia in his twilight years. In the week before they make the transition, their grown daughter Margaret, a New York City artist, returns home to help them pack and also to paint one last portrait of her parents in the home where all of them spent so many years together.
Highlights: Unfortunately, sloppy preparation on my part resulted in showing up 30 minutes late for the Saturday performance, so this really can’t be a traditional review. What can be said, though, is that Tina Howe’s script, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1984, offers hefty performance material for its trio of players. Under the precise and cultivated direction of Wayne Loui, Insight Theatre’s presentation showcases the considerable talents of Joneal Joplin as the increasingly feeble poet, Tommy Nolan as his devoted and frustrated wife and Amy Loui as their adult daughter who continues to chafe under her mother’s suffocating, insensitive love.
There are some particularly poignant scenes in which this is emphasized, most notably near the conclusion of the first act when Margaret unloads some simmering memories about her lonely childhood, and another scene where Gardner becomes absorbed in a paper airplane, oblivious to the heated conversation his wife and daughter undertake about him in the same room.
Other Info: Jim Ryan’s set design, with scenery contributed by Sarah Hoeynck, nicely incorporates the look of a stately family room, with some shrewdly drawn drapes that let in softly diffuse lighting designed by Kenneth Zinkle which bathes the stage in warm violet hues drawn from the backdrop. Tori Meyer’s sound design tugs the heartstrings with evocative classical piano works, and costumer Susan Pennington keeps the elder Churches dressed to their tony nines while their daughter favors more bohemian attire.
Painting Churches is a gentle story that provides a surprising number of laughs juxtaposed against its more bittersweet moments, and is nicely packaged in Insight’s presentation.