By: Randall King
Posted: 02/3/2018 3:00 AM |
John Patrick Shanley’s drama Storefront Church feels like an especially topical work, placed as it is in the triple-nexus of politics, commerce and religion.
Alas, this issues-oriented production from the Tara Players has some issues of its own, including a running time that spills well over the 110 minutes promised on the ShanleyFest program. The true length is closer to 130 minutes, although some of those minutes on the opening night may have been the result of actors forgetting their lines.
If there was a spectrum of professionalism when it comes to participating ShanleyFest companies, the Tara Players would appear on the amateur half. But that is not to say they don’t create compelling theatre.
Nor should you assume you won’t see professional quality actors. In this case, your attention will likely be drawn to Vic Unruh, who plays Donaldo Calderon, the president of a Bronx borough association committed to bringing money and business into the benighted New York district.
Donaldo is beseeched by old family friend Jessie Cortez (Lorraine James) to intervene with a local bank that is threatening to foreclose on Jessie’s house. Jessie’s husband Ethan Goldklang (Robert Wall) already has failed to appeal to the humanity of loan officer Reed Van Druyten (Kevin Longfield), suffering a heart attack in the bargain.
Donaldo is good to go to bat, until he learns the reason why Jessie has assumed a crushing debt is because she has rented the storefront space of her property to a Louisiana pastor, Chester (Densfield Green) for use as a church. The trouble is that Chester is not paying rent and is not particularly expedient in his plan to open his church to the public, crippled as he is by depression in the wake of losing his first church in the devastation of hurricane Katrina.
Chester proves intransigent to Donaldo’s efforts to compel him to make good his debt to Jessie.
But he has rather more luck with the bank president, Tom (Bernard Boland), who needs Donaldo onside for a $300-million development planned for the Bronx.
All these characters will meet up at the church, including Reed, a first-time church attendee nonplussed by the religious experience, but not immune to the promise of some kind of salvation.
The dialogue is all-important in a Shanley play, especially when characters are speaking in the specific wiseguy cadences of New York-ese. Unruh does particularly good work at this, and he tends to anchor the drama as a result, abetted by James and Wall as an eccentrically-matched married couple.
As a pastor paralysed by an apparent crisis of faith, Densfield Green submits a problematic performance, speaking Shanley’s lines with a clipped phrasing that is sometimes difficult to understand. As the icy bank loan officer with a crazy-colourful past, Kevin Longfield likewise has a stilted delivery that infringes on the flow of the piece. Boland does good, capable work as the genteel banker with the ominous surname Raidenberg.
The play itself is an interesting examination of the ways in which doing the right thing can go wrong. With that in mind, ShanleyFest pass holders are advised to sample this show later in its run when the actors may have a better command of the material.
Read more by Randall King.