Review by Danny Gaisin
About fifteen years ago, I had the opportunity to see Virginia McEwen & Vince Carlin counterpoint each other in D.L. Coburn’s ‘Gin Game’. Their chemistry, professionalism, and acting skills were obvious. These qualities are even more apparent in Tina Howe’s PAINTING CHURCHES. This 1983 Off-Broadway sit-dram, (sic) presented by ‘Act of Faith’ Productions is an intense yet delicately directed effort that made this scribe recall a succinct observation by an insightful relative who observed that ‘Growing old is not for the faint-of-heart‘. Her husband was experiencing what acclaimed poet ‘Gardner Church‘ was experiencing… the onslaught of early dementia.
Like the catalyst role of the daughter Margaret, intensely portrayed by Caroline Saulez, ‘Mags’ is an impressionist N.Y. artist, and her short visit brings out the underlining emotions of her parents – especially those of McEwen’s ‘Fanny’ with whom this writer identified! Rationale- I’m starting to mentally & emotionally slip…so is Terry; therefore a visceral reaction. It was as if the events on-stage were a mirror reflecting our lives and especially our interaction with both our daughters. We laughed, but also cried.
Experienced director Willard Boudreau has wisely managed his charges by giving or perhaps simply offering his ideas and letting his actors have a loose interpretive rein. A non-distracting set enables the audience to concentrate on the dialogue, debate, and physically reflecting poses that underscore both the humorous plus the dramatic moments. Carlin has the hesitancy; memory and auditory lapses of the aged so realistically portrayed as to make us actually start worrying about him as a person, not just as an actor. McEwen lets us see numerous distinct personas in her character’s psyche. There is an emotional ‘Fanny’. A snobbish ‘Fanny’; a loving & caring ‘Fanny’, and a practical Fanny who has to face a life-changing reality. Both agonists give Oscar-level depictions.
Saulez is new to us (She lives in Australia) but she holds her own even against such stalwarts. Her facial expressions, timing and postures all emphasize the emotional dichotomies she’s experiencing in attempting to prove her own status to an overachieving father and dynamic mother. She wants to make an impression! Another symbol to which I must admit to reflecting.
There are some well-staged moments. The Carlin/McEwen interpreting three famous works of art (hint- American Gothic; Pièta & Sistine Chapel), and the packing/unpacking episode that will resonate with everyone who has made a move.
Some plays, like the aforementioned Gin Game, or ‘Art’ ; ‘Dumb Waiter’ and the ‘Turn of the Screw’ have but two or three actors. So are ‘Krap’s Last Tape’ or many of Sidney Lumet’s efforts. The challenges of constant dialogue, and the intrinsic necessity for relating between performers make such a format difficult. With ‘Painting Churches’ there is also the hurdle of appreciating the subject matter. Boudreau and his cast have fully succeeded in capturing the metier of what Howe tries to present.
PAINTING CHURCHES will be at the Queen Elizabeth Community Centre on Oakville’s Bridge Road – Sat. Apr. 28th; May 4th& 5th.
Personal aside to publicity chair Christine Kirkos: -my Senior’s Moment recollection – the forgotten musical is Lerner & Lowe’s 1947 -“BRIGADOON”…rent it, you’ll love it!